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Part 1: Can You Top This Sleep Training Saga?

Monday, April 21st, 2014

I’m not talking about myself in the title, but rather my friend Jennifer and her husband Matt, whose battle to sleep train their daughter reached dramatic heights that involved urine, feces threats, and lots of screams.  This 2-part blog post follows the story of how this family went to battle for one of the most crucial elements in life: sleep.

Here is some background: The girls both slept in cribs, then their own beds. But when the nighttime fussing began out of nowhere, both parents found themselves too bleary-eyed to be consistent with sleep rules. Jennifer began getting in bed with Eleanor or vice versa and everyone was waking up multiple times.  There were tears, thrashing of limbs and feet in mouth (literally). They tried Ferber, various techniques, but nothing was changing. The whole family became walking zombie’s, unable to function during the day. I watched them all disintegrate into madness.

Eleanor is the cutest little girl, full of spunk. She’s also incredibly strong-willed.  This is a girl who is either going to be President or the world’s best criminal (kidding of course–at least on the criminal part). She doesn’t back down. Even if it means sleeping in her own pee. Or worse.

Remember the best-selling book, Go The F-ck To Sleep? Well, here is Jen’s own version of her sleep training hell.

NIGHT 1:

After many months of not sleeping (it’s been such a blur that I don’t even know how long it’s been since we’ve slept through the night) and many attempts at sleep training, we finally cave and hire an experienced sleep consultant to help us figure out what to do.

For an all-inclusive fee, Renee Wasserman, P.T., M.P.H.  from Sleepyheadsolutions talked to us on the phone for over an hour and e-mailed us a detailed plan to follow. She will be checking in with us every morning by phone for two weeks to advise us, encourage us to stay on course, and listen to my boring and very detailed sleep stories.

After a few weeks of procrastinating (we have friends in town, Eleanor is sick, we’re traveling…) my husband and I finally force ourselves to buckle up and start the sleep training process. Per our sleep consultant’s advice, we have a family meeting after dinner on the first night. We try to make it fun and pass around a toy microphone while we discuss the importance of sleep for our bodies, how we feel when we don’t get enough sleep, and the new sleep rules for everyone in the house.

We talk about how we all need to stay in our rooms and sleep in our own beds until morning. We tell the girls that we love them very much but won’t be coming into their (shared) room if they cry.

Our older daughter Cece (4 years) gets it and is up for the challenge but she’s a great sleeper and has been sleeping through the night since she was six months old.

Eleanor hears the plan and says, “Not Yet. How about tomorrow?”

Unfortunately they’re in this together. If we want them to successfully share a room, we have to sleep train them both. In other words, Eleanor’s problem is Cece’s problem too.

We tell Eleanor that we know she can do this. We’re all going to try our best.

Per Renee’s instructions:

  • We hung up the blackout shades
  • We set up our new light-up sleep clock and explain to the girls that the cow goes to sleep at bedtime and when she wakes up (at 7am) they can get up too.
  • We unscrew the light bulb from the ceiling so Eleanor can’t switch the light on and off in the middle of the night (which she has been tormenting us with).
  • We set up a potty and a roll of toilet paper on a towel on the floor so Eleanor can’t use the potty excuse all night long. If she has to go, she goes in her room, in the potty. (We hope.)
  •  We read our new books about sleep.
  • We go through the sleep rules again: “We will sleep in our own beds all night. We will stay in our beds until the clock changes color. You can hug your bear and talk to each other but we won’t be coming in if you cry…”

We kiss them good night and close the door. There’s a child lock on the inside so they can’t get out.

It’s 7:00 pm. I’m scared of what the night will bring. I hate the thought of Eleanor screaming for us all night. And taking her clothes off and being cold. And peeing on the ground or in her bed. And waking up her sister who would otherwise be sleeping soundly through the night.  But we all need more sleep and I feel like we’ve hit rock bottom. We need to do this.

7:30pm:

Cece is asleep in her bed and Eleanor gets out of bed and is crying at the door. She gets down on her belly and screams at the small crack above the floor. It sounds like she’s yelling through a megaphone. “I need to make a pee pee!” I stare at her on the monitor. “I need to go in the big toilet in the bathroom! Not the little potty in here!” I watch her expertly remove her pajamas and her diaper. “I need a new diaper!” She pees on the new wood floor. It’s going to be a long night. As hard as it is, we don’t go in.

8:00pm:

Eleanor screams like crazy and tries to wake up her sister.

“Cece, you need to wake up and open the door for me!”

When that doesn’t work she yells, “I need to make a poop!” “The poop is coming out!”

This is when I would normally rush in. I would put Eleanor on the potty and move Cece into our bed so she can sleep. This time we stay strong.

Next she resorts to calling me by my name: “Jennifer! Jennifer!” she screams at the gap under the door. If I wasn’t so nervous, this name-calling would be kind of hilarious.

We watch the monitor. We don’t budge.

She leaves the frame and comes back holding a summer dress. We watch her pull it over her naked body – inside out and backwards. After more crying she goes to get pajama bottoms from her dresser, sits on Cece’s bed, and carefully puts them on. She climbs into bed with Cece and goes to bed. I know that since she is diaper-less she will pee in the bed tonight but I’m very relieved she stopped crying. It lasted around 45 minutes and now she’s asleep. Wearing a dress – but asleep!

I get into my own bed, holding my breath. I have no idea what the night will bring.

In the wee hours:

The screaming begins at 12am. It starts again at 2am, then 4am. Each bout lasts about 15 minutes. In between crying fits she’s in her sister’s bed. She stands up on top of Cece’s back to reach the light switch – click click. Nothing happens since we removed the bulb. She tries a few more times before giving up.

Cece wakes up and they scream at us together in harmony. We’re awake all night staring at the monitor but we don’t break and go into their room. At one point Eleanor rolls off the bed onto the carpet. Minutes later Cece gets poked in the eye. Everyone is yelling “Owwwiiieeee.” It’s impossibly hard but we stick to the plan and don’t go in…

I continue watching the monitor so I know they’re ok. And I know that if we walk in because Eleanor rolled off the bed, she’ll pretend to roll off the bed again. And if the eye poke gets us into the bedroom, she’ll fake-poke her sister in the eye next time. She’s that good.

We’re all exhausted in the morning but we (try to) celebrate that we stayed in our rooms. There’s plenty of pee on the floor and in the bed and lots of laundry to do before school/work. I find out later that an exhausted Cece falls asleep at her preschool while eating her lunch. Oy. I feel terrible.

–Tomorrow is Part 2 of Sleep Training Hell. Tune in to see if it gets better. Or worse.

 

Pic of family bed via Shutterstock

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“Ramshackle Glam”: A Great Book, a Great Guide, a Great Gift–All in One

Tuesday, April 15th, 2014

I met Jordan Reid on a TV shoot about moms, called MomTales. This is how we bonded:

Me: You know, when I’m not with my kids, I miss them terribly and I just want to be with them. Then as soon as I’m with them, I want them back in preschool.

Jordan [nodding]: There are only so many hours in the day you can spend playing Triceratops Versus T-Rex. At some point, you really just need a good trashy magazine and a margarita.

From there, we never stopped talking, except when the director told us to pay attention to the shoot.

This is a woman who runs a million miles and hours with a smile on her face, high heels (though she disputes that in her new book), and a wit about her that makes you instantly relax and laugh.

She has a 2-year-old boy, 2 dogs, a husband, and a full-time career as a style blogger on her site, Ramshackle Glam. Which means she also does TV appearances, goes to conferences, meets with advertisers, and somehow manages to post numerous times a day. With pictures. I’m lucky to get 2 posts out a week. Now she just came out with a book, also titled Ramshackle Glam. Where she gets the time to juggle all this is beyond me. Oh, and did I mention she’s pregnant with her second child?

People like her both inspire me and give me a much-needed dose of mom energy. But what I really like about Jordan (and her book) is that she keeps it real. She’s so relatable; she’s the kind of mom friend you picture having a glass of wine with and talking about how you may have accidentally-on-purpose thrown a remote at your husband last night because he forgot to tape The Bachelorette. Or how all your hair — no, but seriously: all of it — fell out six months after you gave birth. (Except for the hair on your legs; that’s holding on just fine, and you know that for a fact because you cannot for the life of you remember to shave it.) [This is a true excerpt from her book, fyi.]

I tore through it in just 3 nights. Then passed it on to a friend who is expecting her first child. It’s a super fun, entertaining read that also gets to the core of why motherhood can be so damn hard, heartbreaking, heartwrenching, and heartwarming at the same time.

Mother’s Day is around the corner. Know anyone expecting? Or a new mom? This is the gift to get them.

Here is my interview with Jordan about her book:

What inspired you to write a book?

I’ve wanted to write a book for as long as I can remember — since I was about four years old — but after I had my son in 2011 I realized that I had a lot to say about motherhood, and especially about the judgment that can so often color a new parent’s experience. Before I had my son, I would not have called myself a “maternal person” at all (and honestly, I still don’t know that I would; I mean, I adore my son, but I’m not one of those people who’s just awesome and natural and amazing around kids), and I was very, very nervous going into motherhood.

I was frightened that having a baby would take away some fundamental part of me, that I wouldn’t be able to recognize myself anymore once I was a Mom. But what I discovered is that having a baby changes a lot, but it doesn’t change everything. You can still do all those things — from wearing the clothing that makes you feel good to connecting with your partner to having a house that feels like a home instead of a Baby Zoo — all that you used to do “before”…but you just might have to be a little more creative, that’s all.

How would you sum up your book? Is it for expecting parents, new parents, old parents?

The advice in the book is tailored towards new moms, but really, the fashion, beauty, home decor, and entertaining tips are only a small part of the book. What Ramshackle Glam really is, is a memoir of motherhood, and I think that the stories about marital struggles, guilt over your parenting choices, and the challenges of making friends as a mom are things that every parent — young and old — can relate to.

What has been the hardest part of motherhood for you?  

For me, the hardest part of motherhood has been figuring out how to live in the moment, and to not worry too much about “how fast it goes.” I can’t tell you how much that stressed me out, hearing from everyone on the street, “Oh, it goes so quickly, they’ll be grown and gone before you know it!” But over time I’ve discovered that while of course you miss every stage when it passes…the stage that you’re in right this very moment is almost always the most fun and exciting of all.

What about pregnancy? Have the challenges changed from your first to second pregnancy? 

With pregnancy, I’d say the hardest thing for me the first time around was just wrapping my mind around what day-to-day life would look like a few months down the road…because I had no idea. I couldn’t fathom how I’d get my stroller up the stairs to my walk-up apartment, let alone how I’d actually, you know, raise a human being. And that’s part of why I wanted to write Ramshackle Glam, to let people who may feel similarly get a peek into what’s-to-come, and to know that yes, it’ll be hard…but it’ll also be okay. The best ever, actually.

With this pregnancy, the hardest thing has been the fact that there’s really no “chilling out and enjoying the experience.” There’s no downtime to rub oils on my skin or meditate on the life we’re bringing into the world or play classical music to my stomach or whatever it is that we did when we were expecting our son — I can’t even remember; it feels like a lifetime ago. So honestly, when this baby arrives it’s going to be a bit of a shock. Fortunately, we’re also a little more prepared this time around, so hopefully that will balance it out.

You are a woman who is all about how to funk up your style, your “glam”…how do you feel in this regard about having a daughter? 

You know, I actually wrote about this the other day because I had a few friends say to me something along the lines of, “you must be so excited to be having a girl!” And what they meant was that I must be excited about the girly stuff that comes with having a daughter…dresses and such. And of course I am excited about those things — I’ve certainly spent my share of time in Baby Gap over the past couple of months buying little cheetah-print outfits — but the truth is that while I certainly am looking forward to all the things that come along with having a daughter…what I’m most excited about doesn’t have anything to do with her gender at all.

She may be into dresses or she may be into board shorts or she may be into things I can’t even imagine, and all of that is just part of what makes having a child so exciting. I know that who I’m raising is not a “little girl,” but a person, and our experience as parent and child will be as individual as she is. The style stuff is fun, of course, but when it comes down to it the most important thing I can do — the only thing I can do, really — is to support my daughter and be there for her whoever she may be and wherever she may go.

How the hell do you have time to do your life? You seem like superwoman. Tell me your secret. 

Ha! Thank you. Does “constant, massive anxiety that propels you into action” count as a secret? That, and the fact that I keep obsessively detailed lists of every single thing in my life in my iPhone — that helps.

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Would You Sail the Seas With Babies? The Kaufman Family Did

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

Before I had kids, I was obsessed with travel.

When I was pregnant with Fia, I continually said that I wasn’t going to change my traveling lifestyle a bit. I said I would strap the baby on my back and just “go.” In some ways, I did. But it wasn’t as simple as taking her and a backpack. I took a steamer trunk of baby supplies wherever I went. I was cautious. I remember strolling her through O’Hare at 8 weeks thinking, I am doing this! I am still my old self. But what wasn’t my old self was the fact that I was exhausted and crying. A lot. Still I forged on. We took 21 flights that first year. All domestic, all safe and within a doctor’s reach.

I also declared when I was pregnant with Fia that we would indeed, go to the World Cup in South Africa, like we had always planned. We had tickets and we had gone to the games in Germany 4 years earlier. And the Euro Cup 2 years after that. Why wouldn’t I travel with a 6-month old, barely vaccinated, on an 18-hour flight, halfway across the planet? I would simply strap her on…

It didn’t happen. And I didn’t miss the fact we didn’t go. It was just too much.

That’s not to say it’s impossible. But it’s hard and not without risks. Plenty of people do it, plenty don’t. I sit here torn, internally debating the front-page story today: The Kaufman family who took their 1- and 3-year-olds on a sailing trip around the world, only to have it go awry 3 weeks in.

Their 1-year old girl, who had salmonella a few weeks earlier, came down with a fever and a rash that wouldn’t go away. Then the steering on their sailboat stopped working. From reading the stories and their own blog, it appears she got sick, but they didn’t give up the trip. It was only after the ship stopped functioning that they radioed for help and got rescued. I don’t know how much time lapsed between the two incidents. I hope it all happened nearly at once, or I will begin to judge their judgment.

They had a dream. They wanted to sail around the world. They had doubts, too. Here’s an excerpt from Charlotte Kaufman’s blog on Day 8–March 26:

The girls have no one to talk to but each other, and me and Eric. There is no true place to have alone time. We can’t go for a run, or take the girls for a stroll to get their wiggles out. We are all tired. We rotate watches. The wind dies completely at night and the resultant swell makes it very difficult for Lyra to sleep. She won’t sleep wedged in a lee cloth, or in the baby chair we brought her. She ends up rolling all over the place, waking up frequently, and burrowing into my side to try to find a place where her body won’t move. This keeps me up, or wakes me up, and the whole thing is exhausting….

…There is a lot to be said for reaching a goal. Not everyone gets to realize their dreams in life, so I really am trying to focus on the amazing things. Like the fact that I’m doing something that very little people have ever done, or ever will do.

I guess as a parent, this is where I begin to wonder what the point of their “goal” is. The children are too young to really remember this, or frankly enjoy it.

A couple years before I had Fia, my 64-year old Aunt Nancy and I went to Tanzania, to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.  Two days before we flew home Nancy got sick. Not emergency-room caliber sick, but stomach pains so severe she could barely eat or drink. I was worried, but since she was an adult and could talk to me about her exact illness, I felt reassured she would be okay. And she was. Back home the doctors said the strenuous climb had caused the lactic acid to build up in her stomach. They gave her medicine and she recovered.

There are obvious risks when you travel no matter your age.

I think when you become a parent though, you have to decide what the reasons behind your goals are. If they are purely selfish and just for you, then I think you need to reevaluate why you’re doing something. If you really think they are going to enrich your entire family–including tots–well, then, maybe it’s worth it. I can only say that from where I sit, it’s not a decision I would have made. But I’m not them.

Phil and I often impose the “risk-benefit” analysis on one another. Example: is it worth speeding to get your kid picked up from preschool in time? What is the risk versus the benefit? It’s pretty simple. But still, I can’t say I haven’t gone faster than I should, even with Em in the car with me, to get Fia on time.

I think this comment on Charlotte’s blog summed it up best for me:

As an older cruiser my advice is to not be afraid to turn back if it gets too hard. There is no shame (and a lot of pleasure) in coastal cruising in the Carribean, Mexico or South America while the kids are young. You can sail until you are 70+ so why not do the Pacific on a comfy vessel with a washing machine, hot water and separate shower, down the track. Look after your marriage and your kids…

As I sit at my breakfast table, with a nice cup of coffee, I feel the comforts of my life. The sun is streaming in, I hear the birds and I hear Emmett laughing to himself as he pages through a book. I have everything I need.  Our days are very content. And mellow. It’s a space I have had to learn to enjoy since I had kids. I have found happiness in the tedious and mundane.

But there is still a part deep down that can’t wait to travel again. To stay in a yurt in Mongolia and hike through Bhutan. I want to show my kids the world, but it will be when they are a little older–when they can understand it, and take it in. I also want it when they can voice their pain or discomfort. Fia is getting close to this time. She started asking me about going camping last night. But then she came down with a rash and a pain in her leg. She said her rash “stung” but she couldn’t explain if the leg pain was sharp and shooting or just dull. I put cream on the rash and it went away. I suspect it was from the 90-degree heat wave we are having. And the leg pain was probably exhaustion because she hadn’t slept well the night before. Still, it’s a huge relief to have her doctor on speed dial and a short drive away.

I tiptoe in their rooms every night before I go to bed. I touch the hair on her forehead and put my hand on Emmett’s heart. Then I go to sleep feeling safe. My children are secure, and therefore so am I. Adventure will come later. And it will be amazing. But right now, this is all I need.

 Death Valley with family, Dec 2012
Preparing to sleep on rooftop, Dogon Country, Mali, West Africa
 
 On Top of The World, Tanzania, Mt Kilamanjaro

In mountains of Belize (also with Aunt Nancy)

In Timbuktu, Mali (before the coup d’etat)

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When Can Your Child Have A Sleepover?

Sunday, April 6th, 2014

It seems a crazy question to even be asking when I have a 2 and 4-year old. But suddenly Fia is asking me when she can sleepover at a friends house. Ummm, never?? When you’re 21? Can I come too?

Of course, when she’s older I am sure she will be allowed to have and go to sleepovers. I know I loved it growing up (probably more just to get away from my crazy family). I also know it will be hard for me to let her go. I anticipate how incomplete the night will feel, as if I’ve lost a limb. I say that now, but things have a way of progressing in the parenting world. I know something I think I will “never” do now will become easier to grasp when the time is right.

However, I can’t imagine any sleepover happening before the age of 10. Am I crazy? Do kids really grow up so fast these days that 4 is the new 13? I really don’t think I ever asked to sleep over when I was that young.  I also know we didn’t go on all the “playdates” the moms of my generation go on.

Fia usually asks this question right after a playdate ends. She wants to know why we can’t stay longer and when she can spend the night with that friend. Or vice versa. She is equally interested in what color her friend’s pajamas are and what kind of bed they sleep in. When her friends come over, they actually “play” sleep. This usually happens while Emmett runs around with a garbage can over his head ramming into walls. I often think in those moments I see the real difference between boys and girls.

At any rate, this all still seems like too young of an age to even know what a sleepover is, much less request one. (I guess as I write this, I’m realizing maybe she doesn’t fully grasp what a sleepover means.) Any one else having this experience? If so, what are you telling your child? For now I just say that sleepovers are for much bigger girls. She has no real sense of time, so the next question is:

“How many night time naps until I’m a big girl?”

“Thousands,” I reply. Truthfully.

 

Sleepover pic via Shutterstock

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A Choking Hazard Every Parent Should Know About

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

Latex balloons are the devil. At least if you have kids under the age of 8. And especially under the age of 3. Yet, I’m still guilty of letting Fia and Emmett have one while I wheel them around the grocery store. It’s hard to say “no” when the man at the counter readily hands them to my kids. But I should. And I will.

Besides food, a latex balloon is the #1 cause of choking deaths in children. Notice I didn’t just say, “choking.” I said “choking death.”

The latex can stick to the sides of their throat. And if you try and give them CPR, guess what can happen? The balloon can inflate. In their throat.

Here’s an excerpt from the Children’s Health Network website:

“Most incidents occur when children suddenly inhale a deflated balloon they have been chewing. Warn your child never to chew or suck on pieces of rubber balloons. Even teenagers have died from this freak accident. Chewing on an inflated balloon is also dangerous because it could burst.”

A friend of mine once told me about this danger and I was really careful with Emmett during the first year. But now that he’s 26 months, I kind of figured he was out of the woods. Not even close. I went to a seminar on parenting/discipline last week at Fia’s school. It had nothing to do with safety. But someone started talking about their kid’s birthday party and the instructor said to us, “If you take nothing else home tonight other than one thing, it’s this: please don’t have balloons at your kids’ birthday parties. Please don’t give your kids balloons until the age of 8.” Then she detailed why.

I just felt like I had to pass it along to all of you. And now you can pass it on, and so forth. Let’s start a no-balloon revolution for toddlers! Or just use Mylar. Those apparently are safe. But then I guess you need helium. So just think of something else. Like streamers. Or post some ideas here. Thanks all!

 

Pic of balloons courtesy Shutterstock

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