Parenting

How We Got Past the No-Nap Slump

People, there is hope.

A few weeks ago I thought for sure Adelina was done with napping, because it had become a monumental fight that took half the afternoon. I know you can’t technically force anyone to sleep, but dang it I sure was trying my very best. And by the end of one particularly difficult week, she had torn the door of her bedroom off its hinge! It was an exhausting battle of wills, and I was so tired of spending at least an hour trying to get her to sleep every day. We were both at our wits’ ends.

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Then I had an accidental epiphany.

I resigned myself to the reality that it was probably time for some quiet time in her room instead of nap time, and maybe if I got lucky she’d fall asleep from time to time. So one fine Monday, I took her to her room at nap time and explained that she could play with her toys (I set up her cars to inspire her) or she could nap, or do both, but she just needed to stay in her room for some quiet time. She cheerfully agreed and sat down to play, I closed the door and left. There was some fussing once she got bored after about an hour, but I was not giving up on quiet time. I told her through the door she could play or sleep, but she needed to stay in her room until quiet time was done (we use this toddler alarm clock, it was pretty helpful in dealing with early wake-ups). She fell asleep right there on the floor, about five minutes before her toddler alarm clock went off…

(I had to have a cut-off time otherwise bedtime becomes a nightmare)

The next day, she needed a diaper change after a little while, so I went in to help and then asked her if she was ready to sleep a little bit. She just went with it! I tucked her in, walked out, and she was asleep.

What?!

I texted my husband, jubilant. The next day, we went through the same motions, with the same result. And the next day, and the next. It was working!

After debriefing a little, I realized two things: One, maybe it had been a phase. If there’s anything that’s a constant in parenting, we all know it’s change… But also and most importantly, I really think releasing the pressure I had built up around nap time allowed her to relax, have her own way for a while, and then willingly be ready to nap.

I was stressed about getting her down before a certain time so she wouldn’t nap too late, and I was NOT willing to let go of naps, so it had become such a battle with constant back-and-forth and willful defiance. Once I decided she could do whatever she wanted with that time — in her room — she suddenly decided she didn’t mind napping after all.

Who would’ve thought?!

Of course this does mean we still have some odd sleeping arrangements from time to time. Her stuffed animal basket is a favorite hidey-hole, which I think is kind of cute!

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I want to make it perfectly clear that we still have tough days. Some days she still refuses naps — especially on days I need to hurry home and get things going on a shorter timeline. But for now, at 2 1/2 years old, nap time usually happens if I give her enough time to get to it on her own. Once I gave up on forcing nap time and allowed her to make the decision, it magically came back. I’m sure there’s some greater metaphor about life and motherhood here. I’m slowly learning that with this girl at least, independence is really important. But hey, I’ll take the naps while I can still get them! And in the meantime, a lot of the tension is gone and we can both just enjoy that time.

Share your nap time tips below, I’d love to hear them!

Holidays

St Patrick’s Day Surprise

Kids make everything more magical in life.

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I’ve always been a huge Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, and Halloween fan, but other ones like St Patrick’s Day have not been my thing in the past… it’s not that I hate all things Irish — in fact I love a good rousing celtic jig, I was obsessed with riverdance as a kid, and there are all the beautiful fairy tales (or should I say faery tales!) and breathtaking landscapes… but here in the U.S. it often feels like a ridiculous caricature intended mainly for getting slopping drunk and wearing green.

This year though, I got in the spirit of it — minus the flowing ale — and it was a fun holiday to do at home. As our children get older, I look forward to reading real Irish folk tales (a compilation like this would be a great start!) and learning more about the history and culture. For example, this was an interesting article: When America Despised the Irish: The 19th Century’s Refugee Crisis. Plus my husband has relatively recent Irish ancestry so it’s a great chance to look up the family tree with our kids!

Anyway. I love having a little surprise ready for Adelina when she wakes up from her nap on holidays, it’s a fun way to make the day special (and kill some time when afternoons grow long… ha!). We went to pick up rainbow-colored balloons this morning so she had seen them, but after the nap they had disappeared! I told her a leprechaun had probably stolen them and hidden them to play a trick on us… we searched around the house a bit and found his pot o’ gold!

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And yes, that’s definitely a Halloween votive… whatever, it was the closest thing I had on hand. Necessity is the mother of invention, they say.

Also, how cute was our little Leprechaun! This boy melts me!

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We ended the day with some delicious corned beef and cabbage (apparently, not terribly authentic… still yummy though!) and it was not as tricky as I worried. Meat has always intimidated me some, but I’m starting to get the hang of it. Stores tend to carry corned beef pre-packaged with a little spice packet around St Patrick’s Day, so that made things pretty easy, and then I added red potatoes, onion, carrots and of course cabbage. Drown the whole thing in some beef broth and you have a tasty roast! (Crock pot would have been nice, but in typical fashion I didn’t get it in in time to let it cook long enough — about eight hours on high is the general consensus — so oven it was. Still took four hours, but it was worth it! Here’s an easy recipe) And the Celtic Pandora station made for perfect dinnertime ambiance 😉

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I’d love to hear how you celebrate St Patrick’s Day, tell me all about it in the comments!

Motherhood

What I Would Tell My Pre-Second-Child Self

Maybe it’s that my daughter was a more difficult baby, maybe boys really are easier (it’s crazy how many people have told me that), or maybe it’s that I sort of know what I’m doing and what to expect this time around, but I am truly enjoying motherhood right now.

I mean, this sweet face sure doesn’t hurt!

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Having my first child was a major reshaping of our world. Everything was suddenly different. I stopped getting decent sleep, for a long time. I dealt with all the hormones and ups and downs. Probably some level of undiagnosed postpartum depression. I remember dreading bedtime because I knew I’d be up all night anyway and it felt like it would never end. As happy as I was to have our sweet girl — and she was adorable and delightful in many ways — life was surprisingly difficult, and it took me a long time to adapt.

So many things were a surprise. I talk about sleep all the time because it really was a shock to the system, but there also other things, like breastfeeding for example. It went quite well for us in terms of technicalities, but what surprised me were the feelings of being trapped in a routine, trapped by nap time, trapped by this tiny human whose side I couldn’t leave for more than about two hours at a time. I had a certain acceptable radius that was inescapable, and sometimes it felt suffocating.

And there were joys, so many of them. But some of it was lost in the fog of postpartum adaptation and first-time motherhood. And so much stress. Learning the ropes is hard. I expected so much of myself — spending quality time with her, holding her or wearing her constantly (to be fair, she wasn’t exactly very tolerant of being left to her own devices, but I often wonder how much of it was of my own doing)…

Now? I do think my second child is easier — which is ironic because he was born with a congenital birth defect that required so much traveling and so much stress early on. And yet here we are, just enjoying life. He is delightful, and patient. He is happy to hang out on his play mat while my daughter and I buzz about with our activities, and he takes all the cuddles and love we’ll give him gladly.

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I remember being excited to expand our family, but also very nervous. I worried I could never handle it all, and do the whole newborn sleeplessness phase all over again. I worried I’d never leave the house again with TWO children to wrangle.

I can’t say it’s all roses and butterflies — turns out the second pregnancy was much more taxing for me, for example — but having that sweet boy in our family? It’s been amazing. There were certainly some rough nights early on, but nearly four months later, life feels like a breeze. If I could go back and talk to my pre-second-child self, this is what I’d tell her:

You’ll be fine. You are used to not getting enough sleep now, and somehow those sleepless nights will be more bearable. They’ll also go by and get easier a whole lot faster. And yes, there will be rough nights. But you won’t have time to dwell on them anyway when you’re running after a toddler!

You might even get lucky and have an easier baby! Let’s be real, that’s probably the biggest thing we have going for us right now, ha! Jonas is nowhere near sleeping through the night, but he is a better napper, consistently so. That’s a game-changer right there.

 Your whole life won’t be completely upended like it was the last time. You have routines and a certain pace that’s already in place, you’re already a master of efficiency by necessity (getting showered and ready for the day in 15 minutes!), and that second child somehow perfectly fits into it all. Aligning that middle-of-the-day nap is pretty blissful too!

There will be a whole lot less stress and pressure, mainly because you won’t be the one putting it on yourself anymore.

The days won’t stretch on as endlessly as they did at first. The rote moments are still there, but they’re interspersed with all the toddler fun (and meltdowns too, let’s be real!) and the rest of life that still goes on. Yes you’ve doubled the amount of diapers and children, and it’s much busier, but amazingly you’ve gotten much more efficient at whipping out diaper changes and soothing upset children. There will still be long days, but more and more they tend to just zoom past you. (and this might be a harder thing to accept, by the way)

You might lower your standards a little bit. And that’s totally OK. Poor Jonas doesn’t get nearly as many baths as Adelina did when she was his age. But you know what? Babies don’t care.

Learn to take time for the things that make you, you. Join a book club. Volunteer for a cause you’re passionate about. Make dates with your husband a priority. Wear lipstick even when you’re staying home all day long. Start a Power of Moms Learning Circle. Just make sure you take a few minutes to come up for air every once in a while.

You will be amazed at how much better life actually gets. Somehow, adding to your load also added much more joy: seeing that adorable sibling relationship develop, enjoying the delightful little babyhood moments you were too stressed out of your mind to enjoy the first time… and there’s also a little more of the bittersweet realization that this baby is growing, FAST.

The first time around felt like I was mostly focused on surviving, and grabbing moments when I could in between. Now, I’m finding it so much easier to just soak up both of these amazing little people, and to make the moments count.

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And I still have plenty to learn, and there’s a lot more ahead that is new and foreign, and I’m sure there will be a lot more that’s hard. But I can honestly say I feel happier, surprisingly, now that there is more of the work — and more of the love — to go around. As if, slowly but surely, I’m starting to find the sweet spot of motherhood.

Life

Currently: March

How is your month of March going? We kicked it off with a trip to a sunnier climate to visit my husband’s parents. Poor Adelina asks me to go to the park almost daily, but our town’s parks are under two+ feet of snow so it’s impossible. I was so happy to indulge her!

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And Jonas got to take naps in fresh air and even enjoy a little sun. It’s probably an odd sensation to a boy born in snow!

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Here’s what I’m up to lately.

Social Media Fast: I mentioned I’m doing a social media fast for Lent — it’s going pretty well so far! I deleted Facebook & Twitter from my phone and I log out of Instagram so it’s an extra step instead of mindlessly clicking in. I’ve ultimately decided to stick to generally checking social media when the kids are asleep or I have a little downtime otherwise, not a cold hard break. It’s been awesome reorganizing my priorities, I’ve spent very little time with it all and it feels good. I’m trying to prioritize active use (creating/writing or communication) vs passive use (mindless scrolling, checking updates just because there’s a notification). Definitely not perfect — that first day was hard — but it’s getting better.

Reading: The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America for book club. It’s interesting so far — Mormons are one of the groups Shua and Rubenfeld highlight — but feels a little bit like pop science to be honest. EDIT: I finally got past the intro chapters which seemed to be making a lot of relatively cherry-picked claims, and into the meat of the theory. It’s turned out to be quite fascinating actually. For one, I’m learning a lot about certain cultures I wasn’t terribly familiar with (Iranian-Americans, for example) and I think as it goes on the authors really build quite a case for their claim that superiority, insecurity, and impulse control contribute to the rise and success of certain cultural groups within the U.S. Really interesting book.

Watching: I finally got to see Arrival, and it did not disappoint. As soon as I saw the trailer I could tell it was my kind of science fiction: more thought experiment than space excursion, less tech more talk. I won’t give away anything quite yet (although it got me thinking so much I want to write a whole post about it… the spiritual parallels are incredible!) but it has stuck with me, in a good way. It is a beautiful film visually, and it was so life-affirming. The childhood and motherhood scenes were so achingly beautiful, they reminded of just how much good is in my own life.

Wearing: this hoodie, every day… oh boy do I love that thing! Cute enough to look put together but comfy and cozy too. And there are so many more patterns and colors, I may need a few more… ha!

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Listening: Fréro Delavega, a french duo from near my hometown. (the video I linked to was shot in Bordeaux, kind of cool) They’re pretty fun and feel like summer, which I could use right now… Also, I introduced Adelina to Elvis Presley the other day and she’s feeling the rhythm 😉

Playing: trains. Andrew’s mom sent his childhood train set home with us and Adelina is obsessed!

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Cooking: anything that goes in a skillet — I’m hooked! This Quick and Easy Skillet Tamale Pie With Brown Butter Cornbread Crust was amazing (although I didn’t find it especially quick), as well as this super-flavorful Skillet Chicken with Creamy Cilantro Lime Sauce!

Working: I recently joined the team at Their Story is Our Story – Giving Voice to Refugees to help coordinate translation, and it’s been a little crazy trying to catch up with the sheer amount of volunteers and open loops. It’s finally getting a little under control, and I’m glad to be able to lend a hand to this cause. The NPO’s goal is to “give individual refugees voice through social media, art, exhibits, and publications, thus empowering them to share their experiences, their feelings, and their hopes on a worldwide platform.” It’s so important for people to hear, see, and read real stories about how real people are affected by this humanitarian crisis.

Also, knee-deep in a pile of laundry, unpacking from our trip, and washing human waste and paint out of kids’ clothing… ha!

Holidays · Life

Why I need a Social Media Break Again

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for a little social media break. This is a post from last year when I did a “social media fast” for Lent. It was a long 40 days, but it was really good for me, helping to refocus on the things that matter most. Even if you’re not religious, this is something we could all benefit from!
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Definitely been guilty of that lately…
One thing I noticed last year was I started getting in touch with friends personally, and it was more meaningful communication. I would think about a friend and text her or just call her up and see how she was doing. I FaceTimed my family more often.
At the time, I wrote, “It has given me back those little in-between spaces because instead of checking my phone when I have five minutes, I think ‘what have I been needing to do?’ and can write in my journal, read the Ensign, read a book, get some scripture study done or write a friend or make that shopping list or… you get the idea. More focus on the things I actually want and need out of life instead of mindlessly entertaining myself. More moments just soaking in our sweet girl. And more time to hear the quiet whispering of the Spirit that we can so easily tune out.”
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I’m not going to do a full break this year because I have several projects I’m working on that are important to me (such as my blog — I’ll still be posting — and my #cherish365 photography project), but I think I’m going to a Ramadan-style fast: only after sundown. Or perhaps only when the kids are asleep (the mom version of sundown ;). I’ve deleted the Facebook and Twitter apps on my phone and logged out of Instagram. One thing that I was discussing with my husband last night was how I wanted to spend more time creating media, not consuming it. Those are things that build me up instead of draining me: writing, photography, projects I volunteer for. That’s my goal this time around — no mindless scrolling.
And with that: I’m unplugging for a bit now. Wish me luck!
Have you ever done a Lenten fast, or a social media break? How did you do it? What did you gain from it?
Parenting

Sometimes, the Problem is Me

People talk about the terrible twos, and it’s true that it can be challenging at times. But sometimes — often — the problem is me. Toddlers have their bad days just like us, and I have to constantly remind myself of what I can and can’t expect for her at this developmental age. We expect impeccable discipline from them, then sit down and binge watch Netflix while eating out of the ice cream container?! I don’t think so! (not that I’ve ever done that…) And sometimes our bad days line up. I’m tired, I’ve lost my patience, and I just want her to obey, now. I don’t want to negotiate, I don’t want to get down at her level and look her calmly in the eye. And those are the times it tends to get especially difficult.

Yes, toddlers are trying, but I’ve noticed when we have a happy environment that’s conducive to good behavior (not having to say “no” to everything, having some structure, spending some quality time together to fill up her cup…), she’s quite delightful. But the thing is, life happens, and I can’t possibly control all the external factors. Sometimes I have to care for her baby brother and can’t get to her right now. Sometimes — often — life is happening, or I’m not where I need to be mentally, there are deadlines and definite time limits, and I can’t possibly build it all around her. I feel like that is what really brings out the terrible twos. And she’s going to have to learn it doesn’t all revolve around her as life goes on anyway!

I’m not a perfect parent (faaaar from it), so I know that sometimes I just need to give myself a break and go breathe in another room for five minutes, but I’ll tell you this: when I lose it and get angry, she models my behavior impeccably. It never solves the problem, and always escalates.

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I learned this the hard way: we spent a night at a hotel a little while ago for Jonas’ treatment — all four of us in the same room — and she had just learned to climb out of her crib, so she was having none of this bedtime business. She was wired and kept jumping out and popping up at my bedside and running around and talking and singing and refusing bedtime. No way.

As an hour wore on and ate into the next, I’ll be honest: I was no longer calm and patient. I started pretty roughly grabbing her and putting her back into her bed, every ten seconds when she popped back up. She thought it was hilarious and just went wild. Eventually, we made some headway by changing tactics and she finally, finally went to sleep. The next morning, we were all exhausted and rushing to get to the clinic, and at one point she wasn’t happy with something so she hit me. I had never seen her do that, but it was crystal clear: she had learned volumes from my behavior the night before. I was instantly chastised.

I cannot expect her to do something I do not do myself.

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For me, the problem is almost always tiredness. It leads to irritability and grumpiness and I have thinner patience. I don’t always think rationally in those cases. And I know if you’re a mom, you’re laughing right now, because that’s what is so hard about motherhood: constant fatigue. That being said, it can be a reminder to take a few minutes for myself, recompose, rest, instead of whatever I had planned during quiet time.

Yes, it’s hard, but here’s the thing: I’m the adult in the relationship. Sometimes I just have to pull up my big-girl panties and tone down my emotions before it escalates. I guess what I’m getting at is the most difficult part of parenting is that you can’t just apply a handbook or employ a set of techniques: who you are and how you behave are what set the tone and make all the difference. I feel more and more that my energy is best spent working on myself, because that will have the greatest impact on my children — do what I do, not what I say. And I’m definitely still learning, but it’s worth it!

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Parenting

Toddler Tornado & Turning “NO” Into Options When Your Toddler Isn’t Cooperating

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Toddlers are awesome. I mean that in the most literal sense: they inspire awe, both at how sweet and intelligent and hilarious they can be, but also at how difficult they can be. My toddler’s destructive powers know no bounds these days. In the space of about a week, she managed to literally pull her bedroom door off its hinges, twist her video monitor beyond repair, tear tassels off her cute new bedding, send a bobby pin down the backup drain in the bathroom sink, cover our dining table in crayon, pour water all over the piano bench, smear my lipstick all over her face… you get the picture. She can trash any room in about a minute.

I know it’s just her job as a two year old discovering the world around her. I know it’s just natural curiosity, but it can be incredibly frustrating. It’s not malicious, but it exists nonetheless, and it’s a lot of work to clean up after her all day. Who knew I had to worry about her REMOVING HER DOOR?! And with all this destructiveness also comes a whole lot of boundary-pushing. Oh boy. Naptime is a constant struggle for example…

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And there are all the other little moments she wants to assert control. Diaper change, putting on socks, eating, not eating, who gets to push the button, which position we set the baby doll down in, the fact that it’s a Tuesday… you name it, there’s a power struggle! It was happening more and more and getting exhausting. Then I remembered something I had read about creating an environment that’s conducive to your child’s success. The gist of it is: of course they need to learn to obey, but life is hard for a toddler. Don’t make things more difficult than they need to be by triggering them — make sure they’re not tired or hungry, create boundaries and expectations that will help them feel more secure. (Go read that article, that mom has some golden tips that have really helped me re-frame the way I see my daughter and how I relate to her. Things like “Set up our home and routine to allow as many yes’s as we can” and “Say yes as much as possible, make our “no’s” count”).

I don’t like the term “Terrible Twos” because I feel like it’s too negative. This age is actually really delightful — she is speaking, helping, she’s funny and affectionate, we’re developing more of a relationship — but it is also very frustrating sometimes. Creating a positive, calm environment is incredibly helpful, and I’ve been making efforts lately to do that.

And then, there’s this magic little technique I learned. I wish I could remember where I first read about it, but what it boils down to is this: giving a child options almost always helps defuse a “no!” situation.

Example: “Time to put on your pajamas!”
– No!
– Okay… do you want to put your pajamas on starting with your arms or your feet?
– (pause) Feet!”

And would you believe it, she was absolutely delighted to help put on her pajamas! She did what she needed to do, but she had some choice in the matter. I once heard it explained this way: imagine if you spent your day having no idea what would happen next and being arbitrarily told to do things, dragged from one place to the next? You’d be frustrated too! This technique has been a game-changer around these parts.

Do you want to eat a pea or a carrot first? Would you like the pink cup or the blue cup? Here, come pick out the bib you want to wear. Want to help me mix the noodles? Should I brush your bottom teeth or your top teeth first? Do you want the big book or the beach book? Here, come help me turn on the white noise. Is it Papa’s turn to say the prayer or Mama’s? Do you want your little pillow or your big pillow?

You get the idea. You can seriously make up anything and for us at least, it’s been amazing to see how she responds to this. She’s still obeying, but she has some flexibility within those boundaries. I’m sure it won’t work forever, especially as she gets wise to my little subterfuge, but hey, it works right now and it’s making life so much more pleasant for all of us! Defusing these little situations means I can have my sweet girl back.

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To be clear: sleeping has always been and — I’m pretty sure — always will be our mountain to climb. And I don’t have a perfect angel child who always obeys, even with this helpful tool. We haven’t eliminated whining. But this has helped defuse many situations. I don’t see it as never telling my child no, but rather picking and choosing my battles so that when I do need to resort to saying “no,” it actually means something. 

Have any other toddler tips? Please share, I can use all the help I can get! How do you handle stubborn little people?