Put a Bib on It


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I’m a Mean Mom

Sleep deprivation means saying and doing things you're not proud of.I’m a mean mom.

No, really.

Just the other morning, Miss E woke an hour early. For a sane and whole person this would be an irritation only, but I am neither of those things right now. She’d fought bedtime for close to two hours the night before, and I’d stayed up too late, snagging a grand total of about five hours of sleep between Little Sister’s night wakings.

I went into her room and told her gently that it was still time for sleep and she needed to stay in bed, closing the door quietly behind me as I left. I took two steps back toward my warm bed.

Miss E began screaming, waking the baby I’d just managed to re-settle, who seemed to decide it was a good idea to start screaming, too. I felt crazed, desperate. I threw open the door, which Miss E had leapt out of bed to pound on, demanding to be let out.

“Fine. We’re up,” I said hotly. “But I’m not cooking you anything. And I’m not playing with you.”

I feel shameful admitting I said it, and more shameful still that I didn’t feel bad about it right away. It took me a good twenty minutes and half a cup of coffee before I got down on my knees to give Miss E a hug and apologize for being unkind. I told her that I was very tired and that I hadn’t meant it, asking her if she wanted to do a puzzle or bring in some snow from the yard to scoop into mixing bowls.

But that didn’t make it okay.

When I was in high school my brother and I used to get ready for school as absolutely quietly as we could because we didn’t want to wake my mom up and risk her ire. Don’t get me wrong – I love her, but in the morning, she could be a real bear. If my brother opened and closed the bathroom cabinet too loudly getting a towel, I’d glare at him, just hoping she hadn’t heard. If we were unlucky enough to drop a bottle of shampoo in the shower or trip over something in the hallway outside her room, she’d come storming out and we’d eye the clock, wondering when we could get away with going down early to wait for the bus.

I inherited my mom’s temper and my dad’s, too, and I really work to keep them in check. But I’d forgotten how much harder it is to do so when you don’t sleep.

Ever.

Little Sister doesn’t sleep through the night and at five months old, I don’t expect her to. We’re up a few times each night to nurse or recover lost pacifiers, and most nights I don’t get to bed until midnight (or later) because I’m doing what most parents do: cramming as much adult activity into the brief hours between baby’s bedtime and their own. Housework, writing, spending time with my husband.

Months into this rough-but-necessary routine, I feel pretty helpless. I lose my temper. I say things I’m not proud of. I take some comfort in the knowledge that I know that it gets better. Little Sister is my second baby. I know that someday she’ll sleep and I will, too.

I’m also comforted that Miss E returned my hug, and vigorously, the morning I was not-so-nice. And a few mornings later, when she was up at her usual time, I opened my arms to her and she said,

“I missed you.”

She gave me a good squeeze before she spoke again.

“Can you get a waffle for me to eat?”

I’d even have toasted it for her, if she would’ve let me.


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Love is Real

Unconditional love is real. Because toddlers couldn't get by without it.I love my son. He is a joy and makes my heart smile every single day… but not every single minute of every day. Some days are hard, and some days are harder than others. Some of the more annoying and frustrating things he does?

Empties drawers and laundry baskets full of clean clothes, tubs of toys and shelves full of books all over the floor and then runs to another room to start rearranging there, too.

Bangs his head on the floor. And the wall. Or my body. Usually because he is mad about something, though I’m often not even sure what.

When I have to sort through the angry tears, grunts and points to try to figure out what he wants. Because he definitely wants things, and doesn’t yet have the language to tell me exactly what.

Pees on the floor, on the carpet, on me… really anywhere the stream can reach.

He’s slow when I am in a hurry. And resistant, whiny and independent, always when we have somewhere to be. And then when we finally make it to the car, he arches his back and flips when I’m trying to strap him into his car seat.

Climbs without understanding gravity. Usually to give him the freedome to run somewhere, like the couch, with little understanding of the consequences that will occur if he falls off.

All I have to say is, unconditional love is real. We might struggle some days and still have a lot to learn from each other, but there’s a bond between us that can’t be broken. Even by a tenacious toddler.


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Because I’m the Mom

Mamas have earned their snuggles.My daughter is blessed with the most amazing grandparents, aunts and uncles. They love her to pieces and have been known to fight over whose turn it is to change her diaper, and not because they hope it’s not their turn again. They actually want to be the diaper changer. Elliot recognizes all of them and (usually) loves when they hold her.

Over the holidays, we spent time with my extended family. That party was a bit overwhelming for our sweet girl. She really was a trooper and let a lot of new people hold her and play with her, but after a few hours she was done. Overtired, over-stimulated and just plain done.

The only thing that would comfort her was snuggling with me—her mom—in a rocking chair. My sister was watching me rock Elliot and said, “I wish that she wanted me like that when she is tired and crabby. Why doesn’t she?”

My response?

“Because I’m the mom, that’s why. I’ve earned these snuggles.”

Because during her nine months of life, I have nursed her or pumped for her more than 2,000 times. I’ve conservatively been involved in more than 500 of her diaper changes. I have rocked her to sleep for 270-ish nights, not to mention hundreds of naps. I’ve sung her favorite good night song, “I’m a Little Frog,” at least a billion times. I’ve memorized Goodnight Moon and taken thousands of pictures of this sweet baby. I’ve washed more than 400 bottles. I’ve folded hundreds of little shirts and pants and dresses.

As much as Elliot loves her grandparents and aunts and uncles, sometimes she only wants the person who knows her the best.

Because I’m her mom, that’s why.


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Who Cares About Potty Training?

My toddler will potty train on her own terms. And only on her own terms.I’m less interested in potty training than my daughter is.

I’m super intimidated by the amount of time and patience required of me to help her learn to use the potty successfully and consistently. I’ve never even litter box-trained a cat. It’s just so much simpler to keep changing diapers than it is to contrive to get her on the potty every half-an-hour, to contend with wet everything, to be afraid to leave the house in undies. The more I put it off the more diapers I wash, but still.

Until very recently, Miss E’s interest in the potty has been inconstant. She enjoyed flushing, reading stories about the potty, tearing off enough toilet paper for a dozen toddler bottoms. But it wasn’t enough. While I got a lot of the signs that she was socially, emotionally, and cognitively ready to use the potty, she just didn’t really care.

Big girl undies were a serious enticement. If she went on the potty, she could choose a pair and put them on. But getting her back on the potty before she had an accident was impossible. Her objective had been achieved: she was in big girl undies. If she peed in them? No big deal. Girl couldn’t care less about being wet.

Because friends at school were getting candy for going, we started offering it at home, too, which I’d insisted I never wanted to do. But not even the sugar-gilded promise of a Skittle was enough to get my willful girl to go.

At a conference with her teacher and school director recently, however, a topic of sincere interest to Miss E came up: moving to the preschool room. Her friend had recently made the switch from the toddler room, and according to the director, Miss E was the next logical choice for the move. But she needs to be completely potty-trained, which I’d been considering even giving up and trying again in a few months when I would have more energy to keep up. I thought this might be the real incentive that she needed, though, so we agreed to present this as a scenario for Miss E: if she wants to move up to the preschool room, she can’t wear diapers anymore. She has to use the potty every time she has to go. And my daughter?

She was on it.

Within days we didn’t even need to use training pants anymore. While she has had a few accidents – one of which, I’m sure, was intentional and inspired by her desire to pee on the floor just like a character in a story she likes – she tells me when she needs to go and then she goes. If I ask her if she needs to go and she says no, I trust her. That’s how serious she’s gotten about it.

The best part about this is that I’m not the one doing the work. She is. She wants it. I’d still be happily washing her diapers – and I do, because though she’s dry every morning, she’s not quite ready to give them up for number two – rather than fight her onto the potty all day long.

Ultimately, my interest in potty training didn’t matter one bit. Just hers.


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Top 3 Things I Swore I’d Never Do

What did you swear you'd never do as a parent... that you totally do?Before I got pregnant there were several things that I swore I would never do when I became a parent. It’s even possible I made some snap judgments about parents I observed doing these very things, raising my eyebrows with high and mighty plans to do things differently. I probably even enjoyed some smug pity laughter in my own head about this parent who just didn’t know any better.

Needless to say, now that I am a parent, the joke’s on me.

These are the top three things I swore I’d never do… that I totally do.

I take my child to McDonald’s and order him a Happy Meal. I know that there are many that will cringe at this, but I’m not sorry – it’s convenient and cheap. And not that terrible.

On Tuesday evenings, Happy Meals are only $1.99. At that price, I can get plenty of food for Ev, a cheap toy that buys me a little bit of peace before bedtime, and I don’t have to fight him to eat a meal I’ve spent time preparing. Frankly, that’s priceless.

That said, we don’t go often. But we do go, even though I swore my child would never eat at fast food restaurants, especially not McDonald’s.

I let my child watch TV and play with an iPad. Here’s the thing, I could tell you that he watches programs that are educational and thought-provoking and plays games that are engaging and require cognitive ability (which are true statements), but that’s not why I let him do these things. Allowing Ev to watch TV or play on a computer gives me and my husband time to do things that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to do without constant interruptions, like catching up on house work or even just enjoying each other’s company.

We work hard on limiting screen time and on “stay-at-home” days, as we call them, the TV gets turned off. But, being a parent is exhausting and sometimes I want a break. I read a blog recently where a parent wrote about how they felt about TV, that she “used to feel guilty about it. I’ve read the studies that say too much TV will give my kids some sort of disorder and that screen time is nothing but bad. I’ve felt like an awful parent.” I can relate, and like the writer, I feel guilty sometimes, too. But also like the writer, I’m over it.

I bribe my child with candy or treats. I’m still a little uncomfortable admitting this. I thought under no circumstance would I ever stoop so low as to use bribery to get my child to do what I wanted him to do. I know that we as parents should be teaching our children to do things because they are intrinsically motivated, that it comes from within. I want my child to do things because it’s the right thing to do.

But it doesn’t always work like that.

When I am in a hurry and already 15 minutes late for a meeting with my supervisor, I don’t think twice about telling Ev he can have five M&Ms if he gets his coat on and out the door in two minutes. Or if he will just let me get the last five items on my grocery list without wailing, he can have six mini-marshmallows out of the bag that I will open the minutet we get into the car. Bribery goes against what I believe in, but it works so well. I get by remembering that there are still ample opportunities to encourage Ev to do things because it’s the right thing to do, or because there is a consequence he won’t like otherwise.

So, what about you? What did you swear you’d never do?


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I’m a (Working) Mom

What does it mean to be a working mom?I’m a working mom, and I love/hate it. My husband went back to school for a career change and is a full-time student, so staying at home with our daughter isn’t an option for me at this point. I don’t know if I would want to if it was. Like most other things about parenting, I’ve found the answer to the question to be complicated.

There are things I hate about being a working mom. I hate that I miss so much time with my daughter every day. The time together we have is quality time, but there’s something to be said about quantity of time, too. I hate that it’s so hard to get out the door in the morning and that I always feel like I’m rushing to get home. I hate that I don’t feel like I get enough time at work or at home. I hate that sometimes my daughter has to go to child care even when she’d rather be with me. I hate that I spend most of my life now feeling totally exhausted and like I’m not pulling my weight in any area of my life.

There are a lot of things I love about being a working mom though, too. I love that I’m setting an example for my daughter that a woman can have a career and a family. On days that I successfully balance it all, I feel like a superhero. I love that because we don’t have much time together, the time we do have always feels really special. I haven’t felt yet that I needed a break from being a mom. The upside to not having enough time together is that I can’t wait to see her at the end of the day and have to ease my foot off the gas pedal on my way to pick her up. I love that she’s being cared for in a positive environment by people experienced in early childhood education. We’re partners in her development and I think that she’ll be better off because of it. For myself, I love that I have the opportunity to interact with adults all day and still snuggle with my baby at night.

Right after Elliot was born, a friend gave me some advice as I was agonizing over the thought of returning to work. What if her teachers didn’t love her? What if she didn’t get enough attention? What if there were things that I didn’t like about her program? “It will be just fine,” she said. “Because it has to be.”

I don’t know if I would choose this if my family situation was different right now. To be honest, I haven’t allowed myself to explore that possibility because it isn’t a real possibility. I think that I probably would because most days, what I love about being a working mom outweighs what I don’t love.


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Negotiating with Terrorists

Parenting a toddler is like negotiating with a terrorist.If I’ve learned one thing about parenting a toddler, it’s that everything you read about parenting toddlers is crap.

Many an article encouraged me to offer Miss E choices to help her feel like she has some control, and to attempt to avoid the inevitable power struggles. Easy, right?

“Would you like applesauce or raisins for a snack?”

“Cheese crackers.”

“You may have applesauce or raisins. Those are your choices. Which one would you like?”

“Cheese crackers.”

At some point during this exchange, one of us will break down in tears and roll around on the floor. It isn’t always her.

Among my favorite advice to parents of toddlers is telling your child what they can do, rather than what they can’t. It made a lot of sense to me. Unfortunately, it does not make sense to my toddler.

“You may use your spoon to eat your yogurt.”

“I use my hand.”

“You may use your spoon to eat your yogurt, not your hand.”

She seems to consider this for a moment, then holds up one finger.

“Just one finger?”

I’m beginning to think that “just” is her favorite word, rather than the more popular “no.” She will splash “just a little bit” in the tub after being asked not do so. The same goes for shaking a toy in her sister’s face, or coloring on something besides the paper I’ve placed in front of her. She will also have “just one more” cookie, please and thank you.

Toddlers are smart, and Miss E has got my number. It’s not enough to know where the boundaries are, or even just to push them. She wants to haggle. She will not be manipulated by my attempts at developmentally appropriate direction and logical consequences. The only success I’ve had following some gentle parenting methods has been to establish a time and place for when she can engage in behaviors I don’t want to deal with all of the time, like screaming. We save all of our screams for outside, which sometimes means I have to remove her from the dinner table and hold her on one hip on the porch, shivering, while she shrieks until she’s hoarse. It doesn’t work all of the time, though, and I worry for when the novelty of screaming outside wears off.

But what else can you do, really? Parenting a toddler is like negotiating with a terrorist. We do what we must to survive until bedtime. Today, juice boxes and unlimited streaming of Peg + Cat. Tomorrow, the world.

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