Tuesday, September 28, 2010

happy happy birthday birth day.

A nice little quote to start us off:

The most important thing she’d learned over the years was that there was no way to be a perfect mother and a million ways to be a good one. — Jill Churchill

Oh, I've been thinking about this quote, and every time I do it makes me feel better. Because, of course, I am a good mother in a million ways, but somehow I so often forget that and focus on my lack of perfection. 

Being the good mother that I am, I spent all of last saturday--and I mean all--baking a castle cake. Frances was four on sunday and the party was by royal invitation. We had mostly princesses, one knight, one prince, and one determined royal firefighter. I was a little surprised by the lack of kings and queens. Perhaps these little people recognize their true lack of power and go instead for simple prestige. 

And I made princess hats (what is the actual name for them? the cone shaped things with veils out the top...) out of elmo birthday hats from Clark's party last year: I covered them with foil, cut the tip off, and pulled netting and ribbons through. I cut a few crowns for the fellas out of posterboard and covered them with foil also. They got to decorate these with little stick on gems from Michaels. Mitch erected a "castle" in our family room from a tent, a big blanket, and a broom, and inside we spread out the tea set on a footstool. It was the hit of the party. (Frances is third from the left in this picture, in the lighter pink.)

After the party Frances kept telling me, "You're the best mommy in the whole world." Ten hours on a cake will do that to you, it turns out. I'd been thinking about the cake for some time, trying to figure out how to put it together, or perhaps how to decorate the yummy Ultimate White Cake I was going to buy from Wegmans. Somewhere I heard the suggestion to use upside down ice cream cones for castle turrets and that seemed like a good idea except that I couldn't figure out, once you've frosted the thing, how to get it from your hand onto the cake. You see what I mean? In the end I felt brilliant: I thinned out the frosting with milk, used a pastry brush to paint it on the cone, and then rolled the cone in silver and purple sprinkles. They were lovely. I do wish I'd used a different color of gumdrops, maybe yellow, for the tops of the turrets... the purple doesn't really show up, but I'd already been to the store twice and wasn't going back again. 

The party was lovely. I boycotted the tradition--at least around here--of pizza before cake, which made me a little nervous and feel a bit like an outlaw. (When I brought out the cake, Frances said, "Mommy, where's the pizza?") And I boycotted the goodie bag, as I plan to do for the rest of my kids' lives. Good grief, they've just gotten free cake and drinks and maybe pizza, plus bouncing or painting or some other intentionally fun activity, and now they need goodies in pretty bags too? I don't get it. Isn't the party enough? But I digress.

Just before cake I had the kids line up outside the Entry to the Royal Ballroom and I recruited an older sibling as a trumpeter while each child was announced and introduced to the Royal Court. It might have been my favorite part. Really, can it get any cuter than happy agreeable four year olds? 

So four years ago today I had a newborn and no sleep and ice packs between my legs. Four years ago today we brought Frances home from the hospital and put on on the bed in her room where she lay mesmerized by the light through the gauze curtains. Four years ago I was a new mom and the light came down a little differently through the trees. Happy birth day to me. 

Friday, September 24, 2010

sleepy toddler update

A big THANK YOU to everyone who responded with suggestions! (there were also about 25 more suggestions on my fb page...) It was interesting: all of it was helpful, even if I disagreed with it, because it helped me frame what I believe would work for us.

Here's what's happened: I unplugged the lamp in Clark's room (he has no overhead) and told him it was broken, and then I hung up a pretty little string of multi-colored japanese lantern lights. When I brought him in the room to show him the lights he said, "So beautiful!" That night in bed he stared up at them for ages and was so entranced with them that he let me leave before he was asleep.

The next night we had a harder time when Mitch told Clark he was leaving the room. There was screaming. Mitch left anyway and Clark screamed for a while more before he climbed out of the bed and came downstairs. I took him back up and sang him a song and told him I was going to leave. He protested, as expected. I got the bear off his changing table and put it in his crib, and told him the bear was very sleepy and he wanted to be sung a song so he could go to sleep. I asked Clark if he would sing the bear a song, asked what song he thought was the bear's favorite. Clark thought Row Row Row Your Boat might be, so I suggested he sing it to the very sleepy bear, and then I left. From downstairs the monitor told us that he sang and sang to the bear, and then happily talked to himself until he was asleep.

The next night Mitch was the one putting him down again, and when he told Clark he was leaving Clark screamed, but only for a moment. Maybe we've turned a corner. Aaaand in the middle of the night Mitch  dreamed Clark had climbed up into his arms, and then he woke, and Clark indeed was in bed with us, wrapped in Mitch's arms.

Since then we've been up and down... most nights we leave before he's completely asleep. Since we turned out the bright lights he definitely sleeps more consistently until morning, rather than getting up and 2 or 3 or 4 and wanting to get on with the day. Some nights he has a harder time than others, and we adjust; we stay with him a little while, or we make some kind of deal like we'll leave the door open and books in his bed as long as he will stay there, and some nights we just muddle through. But! Overall we're in a better place. Yay!

Frances's 4th birthday is the day after tomorrow and I'm busy now with the making of princess crowns and the creation of a castle cake, plus family is in town for the festivities, so it might be a few days before much more.... Though I do want to say that the birthday ceremony today at her Waldorf school was the sweetest thing I may have ever seen and it was all I could do not to blubber right there in the middle of it. I'll try to post pictures.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

looking for suggestions!!

Serious sleep issues, and I need some help. At two this morning Clark was standing beside my bed saying "downstairs! downstairs!" and this did not work for me. In the end I was only up with him for about 40 minutes, but the night before it was an hour and a half. I'm starting to feel like when he was an infant and I was sleep deprived for legitimate reasons.

Here's what we've got:

First, he sleeps with his light on full, which is a problem because when he wakes up he doesn't know if it's morning and insists that he's ready to get up and go downstairs. I've thought about just taking the bulb out, telling him it's broken, and putting in a small night light. That means we'll have to read books at night somewhere other than in the armchair in his room, but that's okay. Another option is to put in a clock and tell him he can't get up until the first number is a six or seven or whatever, but honestly I don't think he's going to go for that at all. He'll just get up anyway. Or we could try both.

The next issue is that he wants us to stay in the room until he falls asleep. He doesn't do this at nap, by the way. He asks sometimes at nap and I tell him "no, at nap we don't do that," and he accepts it. So we're going to have to have a talk about how mom and dad are not going to stay in the room anymore. I could deal with letting him cry it out (and I think it would only take a day of this....) but he won't just cry it out; he'll climb out of the crib. This all started with his climbing out in the first place: we tried the supernanny thing of putting him back, putting him back, not speaking to him and just putting him back, but he just became more and more hysterical and worked himself up into what seemed an unnecessary panic. When that would happen and I would stop and just put my arms around him, he'd quiet immediately. We figured it was just a stage, some kind of anxiety that would pass, so we started to stay in the room. It isn't so bad to sit with him when we put him to bed, especially as we've taken to watching netflix on our iphones with headphones while we wait, but the problem is that he expects it again when he wakes in the night.


Okay. So when he wakes at night and screams, I tell him it's the middle of the night and everyone is sleeping and he needs to sleep too. He shrieks. If I say I'm going back to bed he shrieks and then climbs out of his bed. Here are the options as I see them:

1) Get a crib tent. Zip him in. Ignore the possible hazard were there a fire. Make him feel powerless but dominated. Get some sleep.

2) Get a new toddler bed he loves, a fire truck or pirate boat or something, and tell him he can only have it if he stays in it. In order to enforce that, however, I'd also have to get a crib tent so I can move him to the crib if he won't stay in the bed.

3) Leave the crib the way it is but put latches on the door so he can't get out of the room. This will probably mean he will cry until he passes out on the floor. Again with the powerlessness.

4) Is he old enough (2 1/2) for a sticker chart? I don't know... I don't think he'll get the idea of accumulating stickers toward a goal. But maybe there's something I can bribe him with immediately? I don't know what. He doesn't sleep with any stuffed animals, nothing I can take away if he won't comply...

5) Dose him heavily with narcotics every night before bed. Kidding. Sort of.

6) Gear myself up and do the supernanny sleep training for a couple of nights: simply put him back in bed every time he gets out. The problem with this is that I have to stay nearby to put him back in, and that's just what he wants. He doesn't mind being in the bed as long as I'm there too.

7) Take him into the bed with me in the guest room. (you note the absence of the option to put him in bed with us... both of us are light sleepers and it simply would not work.) I fear this would mean I would forever sleep in the guest room, which just creates another problem rather than solving this one.

8) Is there something I can get for his room that would make him more comfortable, less needy? Suggestions????

He used to be a great sleeper. He used to just wave to us from his bed as we said goodnight. He would wake up and sometimes call out in the night, but then go right back to sleep. All by himself. And I don't feel this is any longer about anxiety and separation and fear; now it seems to be about control, the way he is trying to assert control over his world. Maybe one solution, or part of the solution, is to help him feel in control in other ways, give him choices or let him make other decisions. Thoughts about that?

So, please, if you have any suggestions at all, please please offer them. Helpful or unhelpful, tried or absurd, I'll take em.

By the way, I'm writing this while both kids are at preschool! All on my own here in the world, for a little while. Maybe this space will mean I can keep up with the blog better. That would be nice.

Monday, September 13, 2010


I think my brain is deteorating. This is mostly why I haven't been posting... sometimes interesting issues come up, but then I can't think through them or something. This is what too many diapers will do to a person. Or maybe it's the volume of the screaming; maybe it's not just my eardrums it's damaged, but my actual brain cells too. I'll buy that.

Recently I made a new friend, a childless friend who is a PhD and new faculty here. She uses her brain on a regular basis for more than estimating the fullness of a diaper or how many snacks are necessary for a given outing, and while talking with her I felt like I was sprinting to keep up. It was pitiful. I need to take a class or something.

We are in transition. (We are actually all in transition all the time, but some transitions move more earth than others...) For one thing, school just started for Frances. We visited for a bit on Wednesday and then she had regular school days Thursday and Friday, though Thursday afternoon I was rather shocked to realize she was going again the very next day. I felt like it should be once a week or something....

Wednesday morning was going along fine, everyone wearing their own clothes and generally behaving, then Frances started losing her shit. "Is she hungry?" I asked Mitch. She cried about the toy Clark was playing with. She cried because the 6 page paperback book she was reading 'pinched her finger'. "Did she not sleep?" I asked. "Is she nervous about school?" And she was. It took awhile for her to admit it, or discover it, or something. She appears to be blessed with my complete inability to know what it is I'm feeling while I'm feeling it. I'm trying to help her with this, which is hard since I don't know how to do it in the first place.

So I told her about my scary first day of school, embellishing with all kinds of real and possibly real details. I reminded her I was going to be with her at the school--this was just a visit, not the actual first day--and then I realized she might not remember being there before, so told her what the school looked like, about the play kitchen and the dress up clothes and the baskets of rocks and wood and the chickens in the back. She calmed down, and when we were there she had a lovely time.

Thursday morning at the beginning of school they had a ceremony with this rainbow bridge, where the children, holding flowers, stood on one side of the bridge with their parents and the teacher stood on the other. One by one the children kissed their parents and crossed over the bridge where they gave the flower to the teacher who collected them into a bouquet. It symbolized their spirits going from their parents to the care of the teacher while in school, and at the end of the year ceremony they will walk over the bridge in the opposite direction. It was very very sweet. Frances had no issue at all with it and marched right across the bridge. Later in an email, the teacher said Frances had a really good day and was so confident. How funny to me that she is. The school is a Waldorf Kindergarten which is mixed ages, 4-6, and she's the youngest there. I worried a little that this would show and she would feel out of her element somehow, but I guess not. She's already attached to one other girl whose name is Francesca, interestingly.

So there's that. We've been getting along so well the past few days and Mitch suggested it's because she has school, something of her own away from me, something to make her feel independent. Or maybe we're just in the next (and much improved) stage.

But Clark! The stage we're in now is not so fabulous. I know I've said it before but since I think it every third minute of the day, it can bear repeating here: I cannot WAIT until no one in this house is two. Just the noise level alone is enough to put a person over the edge. I've taken to putting tissue in my ears first thing in the morning. (earplugs seem to be a bit too effective.) It does help with my patience.

There's the sitting in his room until he falls asleep thing; I worried we were creating a monster and indeed here it is. Now he's waking up in the night and wanting us to sit with him until he falls back asleep. Actually, that's after all the arguing; last night he was up from 4-5:30, wanting to go downstairs, wanting snacks, wanting different pajamas. Every time I told him no, explained it was the middle of the night, he screamed. A being attacked 5 alarm kind of scream. I think we're going to have to pick a night, a couple of nights, and just let him scream. It's going to suck. But he's old enough now to understand it, old enough that it will probably only take one night of that kind of hell for him to realize what it means.

Oh when there are no more two-year-olds. But he's so charming and sweet when he's not screaming. When he's not out of sorts he is lovely to be around. I remembered this last week when Frances was in school and I had him all to myself. When they're together they kind of rile each other up, but alone with me he was only joy. Except when he was screaming, as I've said before. I swear I think he's louder than most children.

Yet! Tomorrow! Tomorrow is the first day with both of them in school. I drop Frances off at 8:45, then Clark at 9. What will I do with myself? And then! It will happen again on Thursday! Oh blessed day.

Friday, September 3, 2010


Lots I want to post about; no time, no time. Which is mostly because I've been spending all my time helping Clark with his outfit changes. Seriously. We go through probably 8 different outfits by 10 am. It's currently the way he's attempting to assert 2-year-old control over his out of control world. I can't remember how Frances did it, though I do remember trying to come up with ways for her, things like letting her choose which sippy cup she wanted. Clark has come up with this all on his own and it's simply impossible (or at least unadvisable) to fight. His clothes, her clothes, doesn't matter. It even extends to pajamas. Last night Mitch put him down and when I got him up this morning he was wearing three shirts and two pairs of shorts over his onesie. We don't have air conditioning; he had to be hot, silly guy. 

Clark is the same age now as Frances was when she was tantrumming in full. There was a stretch months that were very loud and volatile, plus an enormously long couple of weeks when she tantrummed about once every 30 minutes. All day long. Sometimes the tantrums would last 20 minutes, which meant only 10 minutes or so of reprieve between. It was seriously exhausting. 

It's that age where they are so proud to be big (Clark tells us all the time, "I a BIG boy.") but also want to still be a baby. Being big is exciting and wonderful--to realize you have power and are ultimately separate--but they also are frustrated by how little actual power they have. After all, I make most decisions for him all day long: where we go, what he eats, when he eats, when he watches tv, when he gets his diaper changed, whether we get to go see the train in the grocery store though he begs and begs and begs. He wants to make some decisions. His clothes have taken the focus. 

But being separate can also be scary, all exposed and vulnerable in the big world. He's back in his crib now, wanted to be in it rather than the toddler bed, and he wants me to carry him everywhere, from room to room, up and down the stairs, to the car, through the parking lot, which is a problem since he's a full 30 pounds now. "Uppy! Uppy!" he says, and I try to explain that I will hold his hand but I can't carry him, and he loses his mind. It's not just the wail of not getting his way; it's a lament of deep sorrow, keening, stamping his feet, tears. Sometimes I just give in and pick him up, but my back is suffering for it. I can't do it much longer. 

I'm struggling with my headaches again, a thing that puts me out of commission on the blog completely. Hopefully they'll let up soon. I'm trying to post at least twice a week but clearly have not been meeting that goal lately. Yet! Next week Frances starts school! Four mornings a week! Clark starts the week after that--two mornings. Which means I'll have two whole mornings to myself!! It may be a whole new world.