Thursday, January 28, 2010

My Biggest Parenting Challenge

So, I read this blog and they posted asking what the readers biggest parenting challenges are in an effort to address reader needs. It started me thinking and the thing is that my biggest parenting challenge has very little to do with the mechanics and logistics of parenting and a lot to do simply with how I interact with the world in general. While Megan's fledgling violent streak and Charlie's penchant for drama are cause for some extra parenting cognition, the thing that challenges me most as a parent is me. Specifically, I tend to get overstimulated somewhat easily. While I am completely fine in an office setting and even cope reasonably well in a classroom setting, being a SAHM is challenging for me when you consider my children and their ages. Both are talkers. Both were EARLY talkers. Both are high needs in their own way. Both are cuddlers and touchers. Both are going to be in fairly high physical need stages of life for at least a few more years and there is another on the way. My life is filled with a constant background of chatter, singing, Charlie's many, many sound effects (he recently perfected his helicopter noise- the joy!), questions, requests, demands, and other joyful noises. Thankfully, neither child is in a particularly whiny stage at the moment.

Before the added demands of pregnancy, I would say that I reached my saturation limit around 3 pm assuming Megan could be coaxed into taking a decent nap and Charlie agreed to sit quietly and watch a couple of shows during rest time. But, I still tended to eat dinner by myself, upstairs. The added cacophony of "Where's my cup?" "I dropped my spoon," and "More!!!" that comes with meal time being simply beyond me. When I would eat with the family, I would often be snappish and my husband would often suggest that I might prefer to eat upstairs anyway. With the added demands of pregnancy, I peter out at about 11, Megan's nap is slowly fading away and Charlie is on some sort of restfulness strike filling rest time with chatter and fidgets. So, I am left with an even more urgent need to figure out how to balance the very legitimate if exuberant needs of two young children with my very real need to have a few moments of peace. Right now, I have been known to put on a show, give the children snacks and drinks and then steal out into the hall for a few minutes of silence. Both children are in care two mornings a week which was quite helpful until we ran into the Christmas break, quickly followed by snow, ice, and a mysterious 3 day long "winter break" which was less than 3 weeks after the end of Christmas break. My husband modified his schedule so he goes in early but is also home by about 4 which is when I need him most. But, of course, none of these are perfect. At this point, I am mostly hoping that the occasions when I do start to crack are outweighed by the many occasions on which I don't.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Good Parts

Suzannah is having a rough time so I thought I would write a post just for her. Head over and give her some encouragement if you can.

A months or so after Megan was born, Charlie, who had never slept well, hit a massive sleep hiccup for the next several months. It involved at least a couple of epic sleep battles every night. He often would cleverly time them to coincide with the point that Megan finally consented to sleep for a stretch. Megan didn't quite have a colic but was quite vocal most of the day and then would cry, with short breaks for nursing and napping, from about 5:30-9:30 every night until she was around 4 months old. For the first 2 months or so, we were blessed with 4-6 hour stretch from her but as she developed more social awareness and more awareness in general, sleep became less desirable and wakings became more frequent. Charlie also started this moaning thing where he would just make this low level, whiny moan for 45 minutes to an hour when subjected to such indignities such as needing to put on shoes before going outside or having his nose wiped. It would make you want to chop off your ears. Charlie started trying to drop his nap at birth but really put a push behind it a couple of months before Megan was born. After she was born, I generally managed to get him down around the time Megan woke from her nap. When she was around 4 months old, I gave up and he dropped it entirely with the expected behavioral "changes." I cried a lot those first 3 months. It wasn't really PPD so much as the overwhelming knowledge that you did this to yourself. You CHOSE it. I was tired, I looked awful, the house was falling apart. And then, it got a touch worse when Megan started sleeping for shorter stretches and the academic year really got in gear for my husband who could no longer offer the level of support he had been. There was no rhythm to my life, I was struggling through every day and then it started to ease.

Megan started going longer between nursings. I stopped fighting the sleep battles with Charlie. I was ok with just winning the war instead- if he would sleep through the night, I would muddle through the day. Megan stopped crying ALL THE TIME. Megan discovered the wonderful world of carbohydrates. Charlie started going to Mother's Day Out. I discovered the wonder that is the Sprout TV network. The endless summer ended and our activities started up again (spring is a beautiful time to have a baby but perhaps it's not great if all your social supports are getting ready to go on hiatus just as you need them most). It all started to get a little better and then the good parts started happening.

When Megan would cry in the car, Charlie would make "shhh" noises for her and tell her it was ok.

Charlie and Megan would reach out between the car seats and hold hands.

When Megan got baptised at around 9 months, Charlie reached out and stroked her wet head.

About 3 or 4 months ago, the really great stuff started.

Megan learned how to spell "Charlie" because she adores repeating everything he says.

Charlie and Megan climbed in a box and had a picnic. When I tried to ask Charlie what he was doing, I was told that he was "busy talking to Megan."

When Megan drops her placemat (which totally doesn't fit on her high chair tray), Charlie picks it up for her and tells her it's ok.

Charlie "reads" Megan books.

Megan insists on wearing all of Charlie's old pajamas instead of the ones I made just for her just because they used to be Charlie's.

They have tea parties together in their play house.

They hug.

They kiss.

They tickle.

They chase.

They tuck one another in and pat each other's backs at "rest time."

They play a very energetic version of ring around the rosie.

They make meals for one another in their kitchen and occasionally mange to build "big, huge towers" together.

Charlie watches out for Megan and tries to keep her from hurting herself.

And, really, there's a lot less fighting than I ever expected.

Give it 12 months and it really will get great. You really didn't make a horrible mistake.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Helpful Household Hints with Counter-Cultural Flair!

  • If you want your laundry to just smell clean, try using Charlie's Soap with a cup of vinegar in the rinse cycle instead of fabric softener.
  • Liquid Dr Bronner's is often available in bulk from natural food's stores. It's fair trade and not really all that expensive to use as a hand soap since you have to cut it with water- it's too thick otherwise. Tea tree oil helps fight germs without all the ick of triclosan and the scent is actually quite light. Between the laundry just smelling like laundry and the soap smelling mostly like soap, I now find more standard scented items to be overwhelming and I'm pretty sure that's not a bad thing.
  • Cut your plastic consumption by using re-fillable containers for your liquid soap and consider only using liquid soaps in the kitchen. Keep bar soaps well drained and wash for a good 30 seconds and you honestly won't die of a combination of super bugs and contamination- I promise!
  • Have you been a bit distressed by how much waste your monthly girly needs create? Consider the re-usable possibilities!
  • Create a paperless kitchen! This is something I'm working on but have currently been felled by the logistical difficulties of tiny children and pregnancy inertia.
  • Do you want to feel mildly paranoid at all times? If so, subscribe to thesmartmama twitter feed. She will keep you completely on top of lead and pthalates and all manner of other OMG!Fudgesicle! children's issues. I find it helpful to feel in the know but it can be a bit much at times so be sure to self filter as you need to.
  • For a decidedly non-counterculture nod... If you just want to know if the damn milk has expired, consider printing out these mini calendar pages, mount them on pretty sheets of scrapbook paper, punch 2 holes at the top and tie with a pretty ribbon to make your own customized, small calendar that's just perfect for hanging on your always spotless fridge!
  • If you were hoping to go both counter culture AND Jesus freak with your nutrition this year, Kitchen Stewardship has you covered! While I can totally get behind any number of her goals such as cutting out processed foods, dyes, HFCS, etc, I did blink a bit when I got to the argument that saturated fat is good for you. This mom is very sincere and earnest and is always up for some well reasoned debate. It's like visiting with that mom that always brings the sort of *different* snacks to preschool. She has some great information and the rest offers some interesting food for thought.
Apropos of nothing... I can't wait for some moss to peek up it's head so I can make one of these.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

My Resolution

For the past couple of years, I have been holding off on resolutions until Lent and then combined the two. I've been trying to look at reducing my carbon footprint. I know that one year I decided to try to do without disposable cups, especially plastic, and another year I decided to only use durable shopping bags. There may have been another that I can't remember. This year, I decided to go back to a New Year's resolution and this year, I resolve to smile more.

I used to smile all the time. Long ago, I looked in the mirror and discovered I couldn't pull of a "serious expression" in the middle of July or any other time, really. I was much more attractive when I smiled. And then I read an article about how the wrinkles in your face settle after a while to make you always look vaguely frowny if you frown too much. Smiling also sends some sort of message to your brain that you are happy, even if you're not which can make a bad situation at least mildly more bearable. I decided to make a smile my default expression.
I didn't realize how much energy it took to smile until after I had Charlie. I was so completely shell shocked by the experience of 4 hours of sleep a day in 45 minute intervals that the idea of a coherent thought, let alone a smile was just an insurmountable feat. As time went on, things got a bit better but sleep was always hanging over us. Then there was this 2 week interval where we thought it was getting better and... here comes Megan. It makes me rather sad, looking back on it. Charlie really started coming into his own in toddler-hood. I think if I hadn't been struggling my way through pregnancy, I would have enjoyed him a lot more. He had these wonderful language skills and was so cuddly but he also had 1-2 hour waking period 1, 2, or even 3 times night and nothing worked to get him back to sleep and we were all just frustrated and exhausted. Then Megan came and I was juggling all the time. For the first 3 or 4 months, it felt like we were only just hanging on. I considered it a triumph if I made it through the day without becoming completely demoralized. Smiling was infrequent.

People told me that things got better after the first year and they were right. There came a day when the floors were mopped again, laundry got done in a timely manner, I considered actually buying new craft supplies. I could enjoy and appreciate my children and all their adorable moments (the other day Megan put on her cape and said "I super hero. I come. I save you!" something about the fact that she couldn't even get the cape on or off by herself nor pronounce all the letters in her announcement made it even more adorable than you can imagine). Charlie sleeps through the night (with the introduction of light bribery) and Megan doesn't but generally has brief, manageable wakings rather than hour long sagas leaving both Charlie and I hiccuping messes. Life is becoming less battle and more enjoyment. These moments are fleeting and, damn it, I'm going to smile at them.