How having kids is like that dream where you walk into school naked

How having kids is like that dream where you walk into school naked

Ever gotten really peeved at work and managed a few cutting remarks that left you feeling vindicated? Have you had a moment when you screamed at your spouse/parent/sibling/friend/child and suddenly realized you weren’t alone in the parking lot? Had that awful feeling in your gut a few hours later as you replayed the scene in your head? Did you spend the night squirming in embarrassment wondering how you could show your face in public ever again?

Well, there’s nothing quite like having your worst moments acted out for you, out loud and in person…by your four-year-old.

There are few things I’ve experienced that are quite so humbling as having children. Not only do you deal with the awe, the joy, the humiliations and the frustrations that make being a first-time parent incredibly overwhelming. You also experience the gut-wrenching shame spiral that ensues when you witness your darling child trying on all your snippy remarks and exhaustion fueled set-downs.

We all try to be good role models and decent human beings, sure. But in the privacy of your own home, you know you’re far from the pillar of humankind that you encourage your children to be. Sometimes, they are better role models than we could ever be. You can admit it, this is a safe zone. No judgements here.

We’ve been dealing with some adjustment problems with our two-year-old (since the addition of baby #3) and have been spending a lot of time trying to keep our little chaos bubble from spinning out of control. Once we manage one hurdle, another gauntlet is thrown into our paths and we lug our exhausted bodies out of the ditch and trudge ever onward. There’s nothing quite like having notes sent home about your toddler’s behavior in daycare week after week. We’ve moved from shoving other kids, to tackling them, to punching them in the nose (self confessed), to screaming “NO!” all. the. time. Our darling girl?! Never…

That’s not to say she’s not sweet and loving and everything nice. Just don’t stand in her way, she’s got strong opinions and is not afraid to show them. I know I’ll appreciate her strength and conviction one day, when she’s 30. Maybe.

The crux of the matter is that we’re all learning, as individuals, as a family unit and as a community. It’s painful, it’s frustrating as all get out and it’s incredibly humbling. In the moment, it feels agonizing. With a little perspective, it starts to resemble growth and gosh darnit, maybe even feels a little rewarding.

It’s empowering to know that we are a work in progress. We are NOT perfect role models. We are not finished. We are aspiring to be something better, we are inspiring these little minds (though not always in the best ways, if we’re honest), and we are growing with each and every awkward, imperfect step.

Failure is not an option, it’s an inevitability. It may not be pretty or Pinterest worthy, but it’s life and it has meaning and it helps us to be better people. Own it.

The seven week shift – regaining sanity after a newborn

The seven week shift – regaining sanity after a newborn

The joy and awe of having a newborn is immense, and overwhelming. This is especially the case when you have two other kids running around with the same needs they’ve had for the past 2 and 4 years. As with any new addition to a family, sleep is highly coveted commodity and chaos is only a hairsbreadth away.

After the first week or two of adjustment, the older kids quickly realize they can exploit this new bundle of joy. They will get up to all sorts of antics knowing mom is trapped in a chair feeding their newest sibling and so, can escape any and all repercussions. Enter the month of yelling. Deprived of any other recourse, Mom quickly devolves into a hoarse mess as she attempts to keep all the tiny humans alive and relatively well taken care of. Socks may not match and baths a thing of the past, but they’re fed and rested aren’t they?! Meanwhile, the tiny humans are rejoicing in their freedom and flaunting their newfound power as they blithely go about any activity they find amusing. Needless to say, nothing that Mom wants accomplished is on their to-do list.

As the days chug along with excruciating slowness, the new babe gradually begins to fall into the rhythm of the household. During waking hours, Mom can at least count on an hour or so of slumber from the little one, provided the babe is constantly snugged up against a boob or tucked under an arm. Allotted this modicum of freedom, she can now rampage around the house and one-handed, attempt to rectify the fracturing discipline she has managed to hold onto. Understanding that yelling is never the answer (though that was never in doubt), she gamely attempts to re-establish the love and trust that once reigned supreme. Enter the age of the tantrums.

While a semblance of order has begun to creep back into existence, the toddler and pre-school variety of tiny humans have entered a new phase of rebellion. Gone are the days of outright, smiling smugness and enter the age of tears, buckets and buckets or tears. The toddler now employs epic tantrums at the slightest of provocation, or just because. The preschooler responds to the re-establishment of tyranny by dissolving into tears and whining before she even hears more than one word uttered from a parent’s mouth.

Not all hope is lost. As the weeks go by, the babe reaches the magical age of 7 weeks and a monumental shift is about to transpire. The babe will sit or lay, awake or asleep…alone! Gone are the days of Mom’s one-armed failings. Slowly, but surely the minuscule footholds that were being put into place will begin to hold and order will gradually return. Mom will begin to remember she isn’t caring for three well-mannered demons, but instead the three darling children she loves so very much. No doubt the future holds many more challenges, but she can rest assured that there is a light…somewhere down the deep, dark tunnel.

The art of negotiation

The art of negotiation

Is it just me or did we enter an alternate universe where my every decision is constantly questioned? Just me? Thought so.

Having a precocious three-year-old is fantastic. You never know what will come out of her mouth and more often than not, we’re in stitches because of the absurdity of it all. Yet, there are days when I don’t know if I can take one more minute of the constant chattering, negotiation, sassiness and downright backtalk. Is it wrong that after the 10th repetition of “One minute, Lena.” I just ignore her?

Granted, there are times when I don’t need that minute, I just want it. But is wanting a second to yourself so wrong? Giving in and settling my attention on her would certainly be easier, but did I mention I’m stubborn too?  If nothing else, I want her to understand that while I might hear her request/concern/prattling she is not necessarily always my first priority. That’s life. While she might find the fiftieth repetition of what her sister did wrong that day to be terribly fascinating, I for one, am over it. I don’t want a tattler either. Serious, life-threatening stuff sure…but pulling the dog’s tail? Not so much.

I used to think myself an incredibly patient person. My husband would hit the wall and tap out hours before I could feel my patience fraying. What gives? She’s only three, I keep repeating…and repeating. Yet, I expect a lot from myself. So it’s natural that I would expect a lot from her too. I also know that she’s exceedingly clever and we are constantly underestimating her.  I’m not saying I ask her to do things beyond her capability, but we’re a family. We stick together, we respect one another and we all pitch in. Even the baby is starting to learn she can’t scream at the top of her lungs all the time, respect the peace! The babe is even learning to do laundry. Granted, she was loading the dirty clothes into the dryer but hey. Progress, is progress.

The latest fascination with negotiation though is equal parts hilarity and bang-your-head-against-the-wall frustrating. I’m all for a clever repartee and a sound argument. However, I’ve discovered that I only have a limited capacity for the absurd. When the negotiation spirals down into the “I want <insert inane request here>!” and foot stomping, nice mommy has left the building. It’s probably a bit much to expect a pre-schooler to comprehend the differences between “I want” and “I need”, but I’m making headway. I’m pretty sure the speech about starving children with no dinners went over swimmingly.

My latest strategies are typically two-fold and varied. Answer as innocuously as possible and distract! Apparently, “Because I said so!” isn’t super effective when every declarative statement I utter is met with, “Why, Mommy?”. Threatening is another winner, because she totally respects consequences and cares deeply about mommy being cross. Positive reinforcement has been making zero headway because it’s awesome when you have to remove the reward before you even finish offering it (due to the reverse of the desired behavior occurring). Telling the truth is also one of her fortes because she has absolutely no insight into what is true and what is a lie. Clearly, she always tells me the truth.

I have learned to be very careful to always resolve a confrontation these days. It’s not easy to see, but our bright little girl has feelings that are very easily bruised. Even at our worst moments, I always tell her I love her and try to explain why I got so frustrated with her. Deep down, she really does want to please us and be a contributing member of the family. Her capacity for affection and thoughtfulness are astounding. I continually work at making her feel valued and appreciated for all the ways she brings light to our lives.

The length and intricacies of the discussions in our house are mind boggling, but it’s pretty darn amazing to see her mental capacity at work. There are days when it’s extremely (read, impossible) to take a step back and see it that way, but hey…we’re only human.


The Wake Up Time Battle, Vanquished…For Now?

The Wake Up Time Battle, Vanquished…For Now?

We’ve been having an ongoing battle with morning wake up times in our house, going on a year now since our youngest was born. Far from the easy sleep her sister was, the little one took us on a merry dance of multiple wake ups per night. Her sister, was sleeping through by three months. Not so for this little charmer! Fast forward to about 9 months and the little one was still waking occasionally due to teething, colds etc.

Throughout this time of early rising and too few hours of parent sleep, the three-year-old would spring out of bed at the slightest noise (usually thanks to the rugrat) and put up a huge fight if told it was too early. The crazy part was, she seemed wide awake and happy to go about her day. A few days into this and the fatigue would begin to show in crankiness and general irritability. Not to mention, my own morning routine was thrown for a chaotic loop when I never knew when or even if I could find a minute to shower or attempt to exercise. My husband is usually out the door pretty darn early so corralling the minions was up to me.

We started with a two-pronged defense. We allowed the three-year old to stay up a slight bit later at night in hopes that a consistent delay in bedtime would help alter her time clock slightly. We also purchased a toddler “alarm clock” that has a picture on the front. One portion of the picture shows an awake scene and one shows a bedtime scene. If she stays in bed until the bunny is “awake” she’s allowed a reward of some sort in the morning. We had recently gotten her a LeapPad for her birthday so 10 minutes of “computer” time was a powerful motivator. That said, it took a few weeks of consistency (and lots of crying and pleading on her part) before the behavior began to sink in.

We were careful not to punish her when she didn’t succeed. We’d just patiently explain why she wasn’t getting the reward (multiple times if necessary). Many times, she’ll still wake up before she’s allowed out of bed, but we’ve successfully kept her from getting up before her allotted time. Now, she’ll pick up a book or play with her animals in bed until she can get up. That’s fine by me since I know where she is and am not worried about her waking her sister. She had been getting up between 5:30 and 5:45 so I started with 6 am and have gradually added 10 minutes to that every so often. Now she is allowed up at 6:30 and boy does that make a HUGE difference in my sanity.

As for the babe, the methodology for dealing with her frequent wake ups was more along the “grin and bear it” variety. When she wakes it’s always something significant, be it soaking wet diaper, an objection to the temperature, gas, teething, what have you. She is very difficult to get back to sleep without a bottle, but if it’s still the middle of the night I make her one and quickly settle her. I’ve tried rocking and soothing for over an hour and trust me when I say, it does nothing. She’ll lie there and coo at me for hours if I let her. In the morning, I’ve made a conscious effort not to allow her early wake ups to alter my routine. Unless she’s crying with real distress, I let her whinge in her crib. If it’s before 6 or 6: 30, most often she’ll fall back to sleep. At almost a year old, she rarely wakes during the night now and again, only for significant reasons. I’ll cope with that.

Now, if only I could train Daddy to hear those nighttime wakings and get the bottle before I have to elbow him in the ribs…

Our methodology:
1.  Figure out the root of the problem (in our case, crazy early wake-up time).
2.  Brainstorm a few ways to solve the problem (toddler clock, later bed-time, reward system).
3.  Come up with some new rules to tackle the problem (explained thoroughly and repeatedly to toddler).
4.  Sleep on it a few days, make sure you’re happy with the plan (heck, ask the toddler for input if you like).
5.  Enforce the plan (again, with copious amounts of explanation to the toddler.)
6.  Remember, the behaviors will escalate before they change.
7.  Re-assess and make minor tweaks if necessary (large changes and you’ll be starting over completely!)
8.  Consistency will win out in the end (though your sanity will be sorely tried).
9.  Enjoy your hard-won success. Everyone will be happier for it.

The Toddler’s Favorite Books to Read Aloud

The Toddler’s Favorite Books to Read Aloud

I was the kid who’d stay up to all hours with a flashlight under the covers, reading books. Our oldest is now three and she is well on her way to being exactly the same! She’s allowed to “read” in bed at night and we often have to tell her, multiple times, to put the books away and go to sleep. I’ve gone in to get her up in the morning only to find her burrowed into a teeny space on her bed with books covering every other spare inch. She’ll sit for hours at a time looking through books or being read to, she’s insatiable and I love every second of it!

It all started when she was a few months old and my husband starting reading to her every night before bed. It was a long road to get her to sit still. She’d squirm, pull at the pages, snap the book closed and do just about anything except sit still. When she got a bit older, she’d start pointing to things if you directed her to them. With immense patience we kept at it, and soon, pointing out pictures as we read aloud became an interactive journey. She began to make connections with the story and it was amazing to see. Eventually, we started to swap out the simple baby books for stories with more content and more intricate story lines. Now, she craves long, involved stories and will bring us an endless stream of her favorite books if we let her.

Here are a few of our favorite books to read aloud:

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle – A classic and a favorite, this one never gets old. From the early days this has been a favorite because of the vivid pictures. From learning about colors, numbers, food and eating the right things to help us grow…there are endless learning possibilities.

Martha Speaks by Susan Meddaugh – She gets very anxious about the “bad guy” but loves that the dog saves the day. This one usually involves lots of discussion during the story as it’s a bit less obvious and the story is more involved.

Steam Train, Dream Train by Sheri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld – Just a sweet story with beautiful illustrations, this one is another that just begs questions to be asked at every turn of the page. Great for budding imaginations.

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Helen Oxenbury and Michael Rosen – The repetitive language and onomatopoeia is such fun and amazing for language learning. We constantly act out this story as we go for walks, play at home or cavort in the yard. We’re still waiting to catch a BIG one!

Anything Fancy Nancy by Jane O’Connor and Robin Preiss Glasser – Witty, funny, chock full of great words and often just as full of great learning opportunities. These books generate a million and one questions and breed curiosity. Such a fun set of stories to read with girls of all ages as they learn about the world around them.

What are some favorite books you’d add to this list?

Feeling overwhelmed?

Feeling overwhelmed?

When am I not? I was trying to get organized this morning, thinking about the million things I have to do or work on…and then I looked up. For whatever reason, this view made me stop and reflect for a second. A year ago, this would have been a giant wall of bamboo, our house was in chaos with the move, our daughter was about to be born and a bucketload of other things weren’t accomplished yet. Everything seems a bit more attainable now when you realize how far you’ve come.


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