The “big deals” of child rearing that we dread don’t always turn out to be dreadful

Killing two birds with one stone is awesome, especially when it relates to kids.  Often, it seems like forces are working against you as a parent.  Some days nothing goes as you wish, you feel like a failure and Murphy’s Law kicks your butt.  But sometimes, you get pleasantly surprised.

I’ve been dreading weaning Zach from his pacifier.  Of course I read somewhere that kids shouldn’t need them or use them past the age of 1, so as Zach is 13+ months, I already feel like a failure in this area.  (We type-A folks put a lot of pressure on ourselves.)  Side note: I know plenty of two- and three-year-olds who still use them, and they seem to be doing just fine, but that just isn’t for me, like changing two- and three-year-old poop diapers isn’t for me.  (See all my posts about potty training Eliza at 23-months.)

So, Zach has used the pacifier to sleep since he was a newborn, and he just started sleeping 12-hour nights consistently a few weeks ago.  So the idea of weaning him from using it was looming over me like a storm cloud.  I didn’t want to lose my newfound seven straight-hours-of-sleep nights that have made me feel like a new woman.

Welcome to real life, where children younger than five get an average of seven infections a year and a bunch of viral colds on top of that.  A week ago Zach started hacking so badly it made him throw up.  For the first several nights of the sinus infection that has now infiltrated us all, I gave him his pacifier but he kept spitting it out.  He could not breathe with it in.  And finally, I just stopped giving it to him at all on Tuesday.  He has been pacifier-free since then.  Granted, he’s not sleeping great anyway because he’s sick, but I’m not planning on giving it back to him.  In the quest to get him well, I’m also fixing his pacifier addiction.  I was anticipating a difficult, drawn-out process, but this illness has forced me to have more sleepless nights, and presented the perfect opportunity to wean him because he can’t use it anyway.

I love it when things like this happen as a parent.  You can keep changing phases and stages so quickly that all you do is dread the next big thing.  The problem is you forget to remember all the progress you’ve made and all the things that end up not being a big deal.  It’s amazing that Eliza has mastered so many skills that seemed so onerous when they were on the horizon, such as feeding herself and using the bathroom by herself.

So with Zach, it’s amazing that he’s mastered things like smiling, feeding himself finger foods and crawling.  I don’t want to forget to be thankful that we’ve passed through these phases joyfully.

Now, if only there were a way illness could get him to walk.  Oh well.  One thing at a time.  It’s pretty hard to kill three birds with one stone.

How to survive a lengthy road trip with young ones

From December 6th through January 6th, our family slept in 8 different places.  We packed up our new minivan with the kids and the dog and headed south to see family, friends, and go on a cruise.  It was … amazing, fun and exhausting.  It made me realize the extended road trip can be a part of the type-A mom’s travel repertoire with the right tools.  Here’s what I learned that I will remember for the next one:

1) Drive as much as you can when your kids would normally be asleep.  If you have young children like we do, this is a must.   We had a 15-hour drive, and we set out right when afternoon naps should have begun.  They slept well, then hung in there a couple of hours until we stopped for dinner.  After dinner, we drove another four hours before stopping for the night – and they slept then, too.  So we made it halfway without the kids really making any noise at all.

2) Break up the drive. Don’t expect little kids to be able to sit in their car seats for more than about three-to-four hours at a time (whether they’re sleeping or not).  You can plan fun, half-day stops at destinations along the way if you’re not on a timetable (think South of the Border).  Or if you just need to “get there,” seek out the Cracker Barrels (because between the rocking chairs and store inside you can keep a two-year-old entertained) and the Chick-Fil-As with indoor playgrounds (so your kids can spend some energy regardless of what the weather is like – and sanitized hand wipes are provided).

3) Have a portable DVD player. When we recently bought our minivan, Evita the Silver Bullet (aptly-named because she has liberated us and has 248 horsepower), we decided against the installed entertainment system.  Instead, for a third of the cost, we purchased an iPad and bought the case that attaches to the back of a headrest.  This was the most important item we had for achieving peace in the car.  We loaded it full of episodes of “Dora the Explorer” and a few movies, as well as educational apps that entertained Eliza for 15-20 minutes at a time.

4) Pack a lot of snacks. It’s amazing how tiny pieces of food can not only stave off boredom and hunger, but also buy you quiet time.  Raisins, Cheerios and Goldfish are some of the best options for keeping kids happier longer.

5) Sit with your kids. For parts of the drive when we knew both kids would be awake, one of us sat in-between the two car seats to help entertain them.  This especially made a difference with Zach, our one-year-old.

6)  Pack long-term and short-term bags. Put items you won’t need for the drive in heavier, larger suitcases that get packed underneath everything else.  Pack smaller, weekender-type bags with all the essentials.  That way, loading and unloading all of your stuff along the way into random hotels won’t be as much of a hassle.

7) Play games and sing songs. Take turns choosing who gets to be in charge of the radio and make sure your kids hear some music that they like.  When my kids get older, I know I will play the same game my parents played with us.  If you grow up near farmland, you will inevitably see cows.  My parents always promised us a dime for every cow we caught peeing and a quarter for every one we caught pooping.  You’d be amazed at how long you can entertain children who are straining to see whether a cow is peeing or pooping while they fly by your car window at 70-miles-per-hour.  I have also pre-emptively bought a “ROAD TRIP BINGO” game.  (  I’m excited to play that when the kids get older.

Our maiden voyage in Evita turned out great, and we look forward to the next trip, whether it’s just a weekend or another whirlwind.

My “boss” is moody and completely irrational

Being a parent is the most amazing job out there and I love it.  It is rewarding, challenging and awe-inspiring.  But there are also moments when it seems like you are working for bosses (your children) with about one-sixty-forth your intelligence who will not let you quit – and cannot fire you – for 18 years.  Last night through today is one of those times when I’m just shaking my head, throwing my hands in the air and trusting that sticking to my guns will pay off.

This story begins with us returning from vacation a week ago, when within hours I came down with my first stomach bug since I was a child.  Let’s just say thank goodness I still have Eliza’s training potties in the bathrooms, because I was using two toilets at once.  After Greg and I both got it, I spent a few days fearfully anticipating when the kids would succumb to the violent sickness.  So, as Eliza kept asking for bread throughout the past week, I eagerly complied with the requests, thinking she must have felt nauseated.

It turns out she either already had a mild version of it while on vacation or she’s not going to get it.  So here we are, a week later, and the result is I now have a child who only wants to eat bread and fruit.  This is a situation that I would like to correct quickly.  Thus, last night I made mac and cheese from scratch with carrots and peas.  It was delicious.  I was proud of it.  I served it to Eliza and Zach.  Neither wanted to touch it and both started crying.  (Lucky for Zach, he’s too young for tough love and I gave him something else.)

I told Eliza she had to at least taste it before she could get down from her seat at the table.  What ensued can only be described as madness.  She spent 25 minutes in complete despair, screaming and crying.  She asked to get down probably 42 times, each time receiving the explanation that she could do that after she took a bite.  Sometimes when she asked, I would ask, “Eliza, what do you have to do to get down?”  And she would answer, “Eat my pasta.”  Right.  Good girl.  You get it.  But getting it and doing it are two entirely different things.

I finally took one piece of pasta, one pea, and one carrot, placed them on her place mat, and said, “Eat that and you can get down.”  She took them, shoved them quickly in her mouth, chewed vigorously, opened her mouth to show me it was gone, and smiled.  I asked, “Did you like it?”  She replied enthusiastically, “I WIKE it!”  Yay!  It was the proverbial “Green Eggs and Ham” moment.  Then I asked, “Would you like to eat some more?”  She responded, “No, I wike to get down.”  What could I do?  She held up her end of the bargain.  So that was her dinner.  A pea-sized carrot, pea, and mini penne noodle.

She also didn’t eat but a few bites of her spinach and cheese omelet for breakfast yesterday, and I had saved that, too.  Wouldn’t you know she woke up at 12:30 a.m. asking for bread.  I told Greg she had eggs and pasta in the fridge, and then, in a moment of weakness, I said, “You know what?  Just give her bread.”  I didn’t want her to throw a fit, get worked up, and not be able to go back to sleep.  So I went to bed and he got suckered by a 26-month-old.

This morning I offered Eliza the eggs for breakfast.  She ate a few bites and refused the rest.  She wanted other food, she wanted to go outside, she wanted juice, and I promised her she could have all these things if she would eat the eggs.  I finally threw them out after 2 hours.  Next I moved onto the pasta.  It’s almost 2 p.m. and I’ve been offering her reheated pasta for four hours.  She will not budge.  But neither will I.  Until she eats some of it, she won’t get anything else.  This might cost me her nap because she’ll be too hungry to sleep.  But I must stick it out.

As her employee, she’s given me an inexorable and nearly impossible assignment that is asinine and costing her a lot.  But she’s testing my character.  What she doesn’t realize, because she’s two, is that I am smarter than her and I have more stamina.  I’ll show her who’s boss!

I know I said the potty training was done, but …

… it turns out that once kids are trained to use the toilet, sometimes they decide not to.

Eliza has suffered in the past week from wetting herself because she just doesn’t want to pull herself away from her very important activities, like playing in her sandbox or texting her friends.  And I get it, it’s an inconvenience.  But what I don’t get is how once she’s wet herself, she doesn’t seem to mind.  It’s pretty hard to convince someone who doesn’t mind warm, wet urine on her panties, leggings (side note: where can I find child jeggings?) and socks that she should go to the toilet to relieve herself.

So, I’m back to prompting her to use the toilet on several scheduled occasions throughout the day.  By prompting, I mean I say, “Eliza, we’re going to use the potty now.”  (If I ask her if she has to go, 118% of the time she will say, “No.”)  Then, I give her a choice, because choice is a key strategy I must use to get her to do what I want.  I let her decide whether she’d like to use the “big potty or the little potty.”  We still have training potties in our bathrooms so she can go on her own, but I obviously prefer the “big potty.”  So if she chooses the little potty, I try to convince her to use the big one anyway by telling her big girls like Dora use the big potty.  But if she puts up a fight, this is not the round to try to knock her out.  So, I do this process when she wakes up in the morning, mid-morning, before her nap, after her nap, before dinner, and before bed.

When she starts going on her own consistently again, I will wean her from the drills.  But for now, as long as she’s decided to decide not to use the potty on her own accord, I am going to decide for her that I’m not going to wash any more wet or soiled clothes.

School is way scarier for me than it is for my child

Don't bother me mommy, I'm at school now.

Eliza started pre-school a couple weeks ago, and on the first day, her teachers opened the door for her and she walked right in.  I didn’t get an “I love you, mommy,” a “good bye” or even a backward glance.  In fact, I could barely get the camera to zoom enough from the doorway (a threshold I was not supposed to cross) to get a picture of her because she had basically “peace out-ed” me for a play kitchenette.

I wasn’t hurt because I know my daughter, and I knew this is how she would be.  No, what I was then concerned about, and still am now, is what she does in that classroom everyday while I’m not there.  It is frightening to think a two-year-old is going to show everyone all the horrible things about you.  In a lot of ways she is just a tinier version of me, but with even less of a filter (if that’s possible).  It’s scary to imagine her pointing her finger firmly at a classmate and yelling, “NO MA’AN, NO TOUCH IT.  THAT MY TOY!!!”  Or she might tackle one of them and scratch him in the face like she does to Zach while watching me to see how I will react.  Or she might demand, “COME HERE, RIGHT NOW!” to one of her teachers because she says that to me all the time (because I say it to her).

When I pick her up after two hours every day, thank goodness it is clear the teachers pick something positive about your child’s behavior that day to tell you about.  (Today one teacher said Eliza had a lot of fun climbing on the playground with a classmate.  Goodness, is that the BEST thing she did all day?  At least on Monday she said Eliza consoled another girl who was upset.  That shows empathy and concern.)

I’ll always wonder what happens during the other hour and 55-minutes of her time.  I sincerely hope the teachers are trained to decipher normal behavior and that they will tell me if anything really odd happens.  They must know I love my little munchkin because when I pick her up, Eliza greets me joyfully.  Just as she struts right into class, she prances right back out to me.  Today, she said she had fun playing on the playground, and then she said, “I MISSED you, Mommy.”  I guess I can handle being ignored when I drop her off if that’s how she greets me.

My little know-it-all

There is so much truth in sayings like “she’s just a chip off the old block.”  Eliza’s two favorite things to say right now are, “I can do it” and “I know.”  (Right now my mom is already keeled over in hysterics because I’m pretty sure these were the first two phrases out of my mouth.)

For example, these are normal conversations we have on a daily basis.  (In fact, these all happened this morning.)

Me: “Eliza, would you like me to help you strap yourself in?”  Eliza: “No I can do it.”

Me: “You are just TOO cute.”  Eliza: “I know.”

Me: “Let’s put on your shoes.”  Eliza: “I can DO IT!”

Me: “You look so fancy with your sunglasses on.”  Eliza: “I know.”

Even though I don’t remember saying these things to my parents (perhaps in part because I was too young to have a recollection of it, and perhaps a little from what I will call “protective mental blockage”), they have told me stories about me acting the exact same way when I was a little girl.

They have also assured me throughout my life that they prayed God would give me a daughter just — like — me.  (Does EVERY parent say this?)  It appears they got their wish.  What I’m wondering is if that is so bad.  Am I best equipped to deal with a know-it-all because I myself am one?  (For example, this weekend I went to dinner with some girlfriends and the restaurant made the mistake of putting white paper over the tablecloth, inviting us to display our creativity.  What I decided to do was play tic-tac-toe, among other things.  I told my friend, Irene, after starting the first game and winning, “If you start in tic-tac-toe and lose, there’s something wrong with you.  Okay, you start this game.”)

What if our kids came out nothing like either parent?  Wouldn’t that be harder?

I imagine from knowing both of my parents’ personalities that they BOTH were guilty of saying “I know” and “I can do it” to my grandparents.  And they all survived.  So cheers to the hereditary cycle.  My “apple of my eye” certainly didn’t fall far from the tree.

The final installment: Fully potty trained and loving it

There were times it seemed it might never happen, but I can say with confidence that Eliza is 99.9% potty trained.

She is successfully getting all her waste in the appropriate places, whether we’re home or away.  She uses training potties, public toilets or other people’s bathrooms.  I still have her on Miralax and will continue to give her the “magic” dose for her – 3/4 teaspoon – until I run out of it.

I think because we stuck with it she has done well.  It was really hard to deal with a month of poopy pants and there were many occasions when I wanted to throw in the towel.  I think she made the decision easy because it wasn’t that she wanted to poop in her diaper, but rather that she didn’t want to poop at all once she figured out she could control it.  However, the Miralax did its job eventually.  I am still weaning her off of expecting chocolate and a Dora sticker every time she has a BM, but I think that is in the near future.

I carry around a foldable Disney princess potty seat and she seems to like using it.  (I wipe it down with an antibacterial wipe after each use.)  She uses a padded Elmo seat on the regular toilets at home.  And sometimes she likes to use her training potties, especially when she just has to pee because she can do the entire process all by herself.

Every once in a while (such as in the car on the way to the beach when she woke from a bad dream) she has an accident.  But they are few and far between.  I spoke to a mom at a birthday party yesterday who said it took a year to potty train her daughter.  So I’m really glad that it didn’t come to that.  That really would feel like forever.

Toddler chores: it’s not child labor

A lot of my parenting attitude comes from thinking that whether I do it now or later, I have to teach my children, well, almost everything.  So I think I’m a bit ambitious with things I think Eliza should be able to handle and sometimes I end up frustrated, having to remind myself how old she is.  However, I think 18 months is a good time to begin teaching kids a few ways to help out.  In fact, before she was 18 months, Eliza knew how to take her dirty diapers to the diaper pail and toss them in it properly.  When Zach was born, I could keep her busy with throwing out his diapers while I finished changing and redressing him.  Here are other things with which she already helps (and how I use these as teaching moments):

1) Dishes – Eliza unloads and loads our silverware.  Yes, she hands it to me to put it in the drawer, so it doesn’t actually help save me time, but it keeps her occupied while I get other things put away.  This is how I taught her what knives, spoons, and forks are, and how she’s learned what big and small are as well (big spoon, little spoon, for example).  She is now learning how to put away other items that go in lower cabinets, like plastic cutting boards.

2) Laundry – She throws dirty clothes into the hamper.  When I wash the laundry, she helps put clothes into the washer, move them from the washer to the dryer, and put them in a laundry basket for folding.  I’m now starting to include her on sorting whites, lights, darks and delicates, which gives us an opportunity to work on learning colors.

3) Tidying up – I don’t just sigh and pick up all of her toys at the end of the day, complaining about the mess.  She knows how to help and we sing a “clean up” song so it’s fun.  (Okay, maybe sometimes I sigh and do it myself, but at least she’s not averse to helping.)

4) Feeding Zach – Yes, he might be feeding himself with a spoon by the time she gets it down, but Eliza BEGS to help feed him, so she sits on my lap and gives it the old college try.  It doesn’t really help because it takes longer, but it does keep her occupied and he loves it.  Plus, she’s refining her motor skills.

5) Feeding the dog – She can’t do it alone just yet, but she enjoys scooping out the dog food and putting it in Abbey’s bowl.  This is great because it often spills, so she’s learning how to walk gingerly while carrying something that might spill.

6) Spills and messes – She likes to use sponges and paper towels, so whenever she spills something, or when I want to wipe down the dining room table, she helps.

I’m interested in knowing what ways your toddlers and pre-schoolers help you out.  I’m sure there are other things I could be teaching Eliza that I can get out of doing myself sooner rather than later, so thanks for any input!

The Miralax is sort of working: another potty training update

We started Eliza on Miralax twelve days ago to fix her “backup” issue that kept her from wanting to poop on the potty.  She did much better for the first two days, but the half a capful (which is about a half tablespoon) was too much and caused her to have the opposite problem.  It has been difficult to find the right dosage, but it seems that half a teaspoon is the right amount.  She still, however, does a poopy dance, is reluctant to get on the toilet, and has little accidents, even though once she goes in the potty she is uber excited.  We are just going to keep working at it and keep giving her chocolate every time she gets it right.  The pediatrician says we should use the Miralax for a good month after she starts doing all her business consistently in the right place.  I guess that makes sense, because we don’t want to mess up the progress we’ve made.  It’s been interesting to say the least, but we are taking baby steps in the right direction.  Our “Toilet Training in Less Than a Day” has become “Pee Pee Training in Three Days and Never Ending Poop Training.”  The book is definitely deficient in explaining what to do about #2.

The illusion of sleep

Last night was the first night since June 26th that I slept for 7 straight hours without moving.  Well, perhaps I moved, but you know what I mean.  (Incidentally, don’t ever expect to get good sleep on your first trip away from your kids if you’re at a college reunion, sharing a house with 16 other people.)

I didn’t get up to pee.  Nor did I get up to change Zach’s diaper, put a pacifier in his fussing mouth, or rub his back and make sure he had his blankies just how he likes them.  I didn’t spend time rocking or holding him to get him to go back to sleep.  I didn’t spend 2 hours dealing with one of Eliza’s night terrors that begins with screaming cries of “MOMMY COME!”  And I didn’t have to take her to the bathroom (because now that she uses the potty, she doesn’t ever want to use a diaper).

Nope, last night I slept like a baby.  (What a laughable phrase.)  And it got me thinking about sleep in general.  I find myself continuously hoping my sleep life will revert to what it was at a certain phase in my life.  It’s like how you always look back and wish you could just get back to your college weight once you’re out, but when you were in college, instead of appreciating how great you looked then, you wished you weighed what you did in high school.

For example, the best, most recent phase of sleep I had was between when Eliza was 4-months-old, when she was sleeping through the night and my boobs finally let me do the same, and when she was 8-months-old, when I got pregnant and immediately began having to get up at least once to pee.  I have not slept well since then.  And I thought at this point, with Zach being 7-months-old, that I would be in sleep heaven.  But on any night that Zach seems to make it all the way through, Eliza seems to wake.  And on the nights she sleeps well, Zach inevitably wakes.  Of course, there are the nights when one of them is so loud it wakes the other up as well.  That’s even more fun.

What I’m coming to realize is that just like I will never weigh what I weighed in high school or college again, I will never sleep like I did in those years again either.  I am realizing that I’m chasing a pipe dream of sleep.  Here’s how I know: I might not remember waking my mom as an infant or a toddler.  But I remember being 5- or 6-years-old and being scared of the leaves on our tree out my window that looked like the profile of a scary old man.  I remember going to get her several nights, and her lying in my bed with me to help me get to sleep.  I also remember when I was a teenager and my brother and I would come in from being out, and I would hear her finally relax enough to sleep tightly, knowing we were home.  And now, as a grandma, she’s here visiting, and she’s up when I’m up, offering to help so I can get some sleep.

It makes me realize that by the time I’m done raising kids who keep me awake, I STILL won’t be well rested because I will have to get up to pee (like when I was pregnant), or I’ll have back pain, or Greg will be snoring much more loudly.  Take your pick and fill in the blank.

So, I’m on a new mission.  I complain out loud and in my head – a lot – about not getting enough sleep.  Instead of letting it get to me, I’m going to be glad that once a month, I seem to get 7 straight hours of blissful wake-up-in-the-same-position-I-was-in-when-I-went-to-bed sleep.  And perhaps there will be more and more of those nights.  At least until Eliza starts dating.  Which won’t be for a long, long time.