Thursday, November 29, 2012

24 Hours at Our House

Ever wonder what someone else's days really look like? I decided to keep track of what goes on at our house for one whole day and share it as a blog. I specifically picked a day in advance and stuck with it, because otherwise I knew I would end up either (a) waiting until a "good-to-write-about" day or (b) trying to artificially create a better-sounding hybrid day by piecing bits of different days together.

I recently added to the About section of my own blog that our life is just like yours, only I'm writing everything down. Consider this my taking that literally, and sharing it with y'all. This account is from 10:00 p.m. Monday night until 10:00 p.m. Tuesday night.

(And yes; I kept cryptic notes all day to be able to compose this post. My children ate my memory skills.)

10:00 p.m. 
Agent A (age 2) has been asleep for nearly two hours, and Agents E (age 6) and J (age 4) are ready for bed. After brushing teeth and a last-minute bathroom breaks they climb into bed surrounded by a menagerie of stuffed animals. They claim to be too tired for stories, so I turn on their "stars" (a light projected on the ceiling) and cuddle between them for a few minutes. I tell them I will go check on their brother and be back in five minutes. I actually stay ten minutes, come back and E is out but J is still awake. I cover her up again, snuggle a bit, and tell her again that I'll be back in five minutes.

10:15 p.m.
I bump the heat because I'm freezing. I feed the cat because her incessant banging on the cabinet trying to get to where we keep her food is loud enough to wake the neighborhood. Trying to figure out what to do once I confirm all three kids are sleeping. Get online? Write? Watch TV? Go to sleep? A solves that for me: He wakes up coughing. He wants to cuddle and nurse again, but this time sitting up. We move to the rocker where he nurses briefly, then proceeds to cough so much he makes himself puke (a classic J move). I change my shirt and clean us both up, and together we check on J, who is now asleep. Then we go back to rocking.

11:30 p.m.
A is finally gives out and goes back to (relatively) peaceful sleep. I lay him down in his bed and decide that my laptop and the television will both have to wait until tomorrow. Of course, then I can't sleep, because I keep thinking what if the whole throwing up incident wasn't just a fluke related to coughing, and he's really getting sick and has some nasty stomach virus and that means the girls have it and OMG then I will get it and Hubby is gone and how will I take care of everyone and . . . breathing, breathing, breathing. 

12:00 a.m.
A is up again to nurse. This time he's content to lay down and that's fine by me because I'm exhausted. I'm sure I'll fall asleep next to him, but I manage to make it back to my own bed. I toss and turn some more and last remember looking at the clock at 1:00-ish.

5:00 a.m.
E comes into the room. I'm back in A's bed, but I have no recollection of moving down there. E tells me she's not tired. (Yes; my six-year-old gets 7 hours of sleep and feels refreshed. What the what?) I tell her to climb into my bed, I grab the TV remote and join her. She half watches Jungle Cubs while I doze in and out beside her. Soon she decides she'd rather be out in the living room. The next hour or so is a blur; I think I fell back to sleep, but maybe not.

7:00 a.m.
A is awake! And happy and squirmy and literally bouncing on the bed. I guess he's feeling better. Good morning snuggles all around. Yeah! I make coffee while he and E color. I'm not moving very fast this morning. Lots of cuddly time on the couch. A tells me, "mum mum, coffee, hot." He knows me well.

8:30 a.m.
E and A decide to wake up J so she can watch Charlie and Lola with them. I finish my coffee, putter online a bit, and then hang out on the couch with them again. I cut up fruit for us to share for breakfast and afterward we all get dressed. I am especially careful brushing A's teeth this morning.

9:30 a.m.
I get everyone in the car and we're off to A's dentist appointment. I discovered last week that A has two top teeth with brown spots on the underside . . . I literally had to have him upside down to see them. It's about a 30-minute drive and I mistakenly rely on the GPS to navigate us; I could have gotten us there easier following my own sense of direction. On the way we talk about what will likely happen while we're there. E and J offer to help distract or soothe A with singing.

10:00 a.m.
At the dentist office, the kids admire the waiting room fish tank, books, and toys (including a giant stuffed caterpillar) while I check in. I already have most of the paperwork done, as I printed it at home and brought it with me. Anything to avoid having to complete medical questionnaires while simultaneously keeping three monkeys from destroying an office waiting room. We chat about the fish and flip through a few books. Mostly A wants to be held. He knows.

10:15 a.m.
We head back, and the girls plop into the dentist chair, fascinated by the TV on the ceiling. I hold A in my lap facing me and flip his head onto the hygienist's lap for his cleaning. She is really sweet and patient with him as she brushes his teeth with strawberry toothpaste while he screams his head off. All the while I hold his hands and talk gently to him. It doesn't do a whole lot of good. The cleaning is done and he grabs onto me tight. I grab back and kiss him and stroke his hair and try to calm him while we wait. 

10:30 a.m.
The dentist comes in and takes a look at his teeth (through more screaming) and confirms my suspicions: two cavities on his top teeth, plus the beginning of one on one of his molars. With A still on my lap whimpering a bit but mostly relaxing now, the dentist and I discuss options. Clearly we need to do something, because while A's not experiencing pain right now, we don't want them to get worse and/or to affect his permanent teeth. We also talk about possible sealants for the remaining molars. Then the obvious: A would need to be sedated for this dental work. Yikes. I mean, intellectually I know the risks are minimal, and I don't want to take chances with his future oral health, but still. The thought of my two-year-old with IV sedation is unsettling. I hug him a little tighter.

10:45 a.m.
Dentist is back after stepping out briefly and we continue to discuss treatment options and preventing future decay. Breastfeeding comes up. While he acknowledges that night nursing might have partly contributed to A's issues, he by no mean "blames" it and is more understanding (neutral?) than expected. He does ask if I've considered when I might wean him, which gives me a flashback to this conversation I had with A's pediatrician. I say that I intend to wean him gently, but fully expect it to be within the next few months. (Which is mostly true, even though I am still a bit torn.) We kind of drop the subject and he tells me a bit more about the pediatric anesthesiologist they work with. 

11:30 a.m.
After making a follow-up appointment for A (a recheck in a few weeks just to confirm it's not getting worse too quickly) and scheduling his dental work (fairly far out at this point, hence the intermediate appointment) we get ready to leave the office. Before we go, E cleans up all the toys they had out, unprompted. She even recruits J and A to help her with specific tasks. (She takes her oldest sibling role seriously.) This time we ignore the GPS lady and take our own way home. Mostly, we talk about what we're going to have for lunch and what fun we will have this afternoon. Not surprising, my 5:00 a.m. wake up call dozes off in the car for a bit.

12:05 p.m. 
Home sweet home. I fix everyone a quick snack and they run off to play. I take this opportunity to publish a blog post (already drafted the day before) and check Facebook. I send off an e-mail to Hubby explaining our morning. Then I clean up the kitchen a bit while periodically checking on the kids playing in the girls' room.

1:00 p.m.
Time for a book party! They all pile into my bed and I drop a giant stack of library books down. E settles into her latest Cam Jansen mystery. J and A mostly use the books like building blocks, but eventually request a read. I climb in between them and we flip through 3 or 4 books together. Then they are back to wanting to just "arrange" them. Which is fine; I use this opportunity to make tea. I think I'm getting A's cold/sore throat.

1:45 p.m.
Time for another snack. (How is it we managed to miss lunch?) I start Roomba and we decide to go outside. Except there is a lizard on the inside of our sliding glass door (the screen is torn on one side) and he's right by the handle. Which means the second we open the door he's going to scoot inside. And I don't want to be chasing him around the playroom (which of course is a mess; thousands of places for him to hide). So we wait.

2:00 p.m.
It's just as well, because now A needs changed and wants to nurse again. Then all three go back to their usual reading, coloring, stuffed animal adventures. Before long I hear J screaming from the other room, "A pooped on the floor!" Given that I had just changed him, and he was wearing a diaper and pants, I kind of doubted her assessment. E stepped in and informed me that it was just an old craisin. Whew. A litany of poop comments follow. Why are little kids so fascinated with bodily functions? I make another meager effort to clean up a bit while they play, every once in a while popping in to join their pretend world.

3:00 p.m. 
I see the lizard jump off the screen and scurry away. All three kids head outside while I decide I should probably fold the laundry that's been in the dryer since the night before.

3:05 p.m.
I determine it would be way more exciting to do a Google search of "risks of IV sedation for toddler dental work." (I know, I know.) Luckily, most of what I find is positive and encouraging. I continue to check on the Agents every few minutes. (I check more often if it's just J and A out there, but when E is with them, she is my eyes and ears.)

3:30 p.m.
The doorbell nearly scares the life out of me. Two Amazon boxes delivered; one is a Christmas present for the girls from my MIL and the other is my new Kindle. (Ack!) I put the girls' box up in my closet and open the Kindle so I can charge it. Then I check on everyone in the back yard (again) and stay out with them for a short while before coming inside to actually fold and put away laundry for real. A comes inside about half a dozen times, each time wanting me to remove his jacket and then put it right back on. 

4:30 p.m.
They are still playing outside, so I take out the trash and get the mail . . . avoiding lizards again. (Our mailbox doesn't always close all the way and sometimes they crawl inside. I learned not to just stick my arm in and grab a big stack of mail unless I want to be completely freaked out.) Hubby calls and we chat about A's dentist appointment. A comes back inside again, this time to stay. Of course he needs to talk on the phone, too. "I talk dada!"

5:00 p.m
Everyone is back inside now and they all pile into the bathroom to wash hands. I make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, cut it into pieces to share, and we have a "picnic" on the living room floor. We watch some Octonauts.

5:30 p.m.
It's our usual dinner time, but I'm not sure how hungry anyone is since we just snacked. I heat up leftovers anyway, and they all eat three servings. I guess they were still hungry. Which is no great surprise; most of the time they are pretty much like ravenous wolves. Sometimes J will go through a carrots-only phase, when that's all she wants for dinner. However, her siblings love them, too, so we tend to have carrots almost every day.

6:00 p.m.
After dinner they go off to "clean" their room . . . this is when they are supposed to be getting their room ready for bedtime (i.e., making a path to the bed) and instead end up playing with everything they find. While they do that I clean up from dinner and start the dishwasher. Soon things start to spiral downward; a little pre-bath insanity ensues. There is some pinching, pushing, poking. J hurts herself (again) and needs some love. We decide maybe we should just roll into bath time early.

7:05 p.m.
We actually end up starting bath time five minutes late. But finally they are all in the tub and giggling and clean. (Outside time with no shoes = little mud monsters.) We talk about our day. We count down the days until Daddy comes home. We chat about what we'll do the next day.

7:30 p.m.
Everyone is in pajamas and A is clearly ready for bed. We turn off all but one lamp and I sit on the couch and nurse him while E reads J a story. I continue to snuggle with A long after he falls asleep, but eventually I move him to his bed, get the girls a bedtime snack, and send off another e-mail to Hubby with something I forgot to tell him earlier.

8:10 p.m.
I'm off to take my shower. I'm in the bathroom for exactly five minutes total, during which J interrupts me three times. When I come out the girls are watching Gaspard and Lisa and clamoring for another snack, this time grapes and strawberries. While I'm in the kitchen I compose a quick grocery list for tomorrow. I realize I haven't been to the commissary in almost two weeks, because Hubby was here recently and he went for us. Although shopping is not really my nemesis. It's usually manageable to get all three to the grocery store; they actually enjoy going.

8:30 p.m.
A is awake. He wants to nurse for a few minutes, then settles back to sleep. E and J want me to read to them from their children's Bible. The three of us snuggle on the couch and they each choose a few stories. We read about four, and then they go back to rearranging their stuffed animals. And more coloring. Oh, the coloring that goes on in our house!

10:00 p.m.
Bathroom breaks and teeth brushing, but no one is tired, so we head back out to the living room. Hopefully they'll be ready for bed soon.

We didn't do much "intentional" school today. That happens sometimes, but I don't stress about it. We always cover reading and P.E. at the very least. :-) And all that coloring ends up being educational, too. Tomorrow is another day. Which will probably be very similar to this one, minus the dental extravaganza, plus a little more school work.

What would 24 hours at your house look like?

Thanks for reading and have a blessed day.

Monday, November 26, 2012

My Spirited Child

Oliver; my spirited child
Photo Credit: Ali Lauren Creative Services

The term 'spirited' hadn't really entered my life until very recently. Before I had the term I had words like 'willful', 'quirky', 'difficult', 'high energy', 'particular' and 'Pain-in-my-ass'… Not very 'motherly' that last one but for real; anyone who has or has met a spirited child knows that they push you and sometimes no amount of flowery language will do. 

"The word that distinguishes spirited children from other children is more. They are normal children who are more intense, persistent, sensitive, perceptive, and uncomfortable with change than other children. All children possess these characteristics, but spirited kids possess them with a depth and range not available to other children. Spirited kids are the Super Ball in a room full of rubber balls. Other kids bounce three feet off the ground. Every bounce for a spirited child hits the ceiling." - Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, author of 'Raising Your Spirited Child'

My son, Oliver, is spirited. Unlike what many have tried to suggest over the last few years he is not spirited because I held him too much or let him sleep in my bed; he isn't spirited because I don't use time-outs or force him to share or threaten him with consequences unrelated to his actions. On the flip side he isn't spirited because I didn't hold him enough, or removed him from the family bed too early, or because I am not the docile loving gentle parent we'd all like to be 100% of the time. He has ALWAYS been spirited. Only when he was a baby the word we used was 'high needs'. 

This is the hardest thing to acknowledge and accept when you start to realize that your child may not be just like any other kid his age, that he won't be easily cajoled or managed into things the way all of your friends kids seem to be, that the friendly tips your family share with you will never work for your child even if they've worked for two dozen others without fail, that he won't just take your word on anything from food to the direction of the park no matter how reasonable an argument you make or how many 'limited choices' you give him. When you start to realize that he is 'more' it's hard not to feel like they may actually be 'broken' in some way and because we live in a society which idolizes the 'good mother' and blames everything on the 'bad' one it's hard not to start wondering if they might be 'broken' because of something you did. 

I am starting to accept it now, though. Oliver is spirited. He has ALWAYS been spirited. This is who he is and he's NOT broken. He's occasionally a pain in my ass, but he's really truly not broken, and instead of feeling bad like something I did made him this way I should be proud of the person he is and will become. 

Spirited children have a lot of qualities that make them difficult to parent but those same qualities are ones that our society values quite a bit in adulthood: focus and determination, individuality and independence, assertiveness and leadership, creativity and confidence. But sometimes all of that determination, independence, assertiveness, creativity and confidence is being perceived by myself and the outside world as a stubborn, uncooperative, aggressive, mischievous, and entitled wild child; I often fear that underneath those perceptions the other qualities Oliver has like empathy, sensitivity and generosity are being missed. 

So I am starting to learn that the best way to parent my spirited child is to forget about immediate behaviour results and instead find ways to help Oliver channel his energy in positive ways. I need to stop comparing him to what other kids his age can manage and respect that he can handle some situations better than others. I need to let go of the pressure I feel from people on the outside to be in 'control' of my child's behaviour and allow him to live and learn while working on ways to set him up for success in his own way.

"Motherhood is about raising and celebrating the child you have, not the child you thought you would have. It's about understanding that she is exactly the person she is supposed to be. And that, if you're lucky, she just might be the teacher who turns you into the person you are supposed to be." -Joan Ryan 

For anyone else who may be wading (or drowning) in what it means to parent a spirited child gently I've compiled a short list of tips that have helped US live more harmoniously together. There are definitely bad days, there are definitely days where I panic that nothing seams to be 'working' and where not-so-helpful suggestions start to make me doubt myself. Nothing about raising kids is easy and with spirited children it's, well, MORE so. But there are also good days; days where he lets me in on moments of absolute joy and beauty at exactly the moment where I am most receptive to them, days where he has me in tears laughing with his wit and charm, and days where we just seem to click and tune into one another and I start to feel like maybe I am doing something right after all.


The most identifiable mark of a spirited child is their energy. It is seemingly never ending. But it does end at some point and when you get to the end of that energy their ability to cope with their big feelings is almost non-existent. The key is to find balance. 

Spirited kids need an outlet; if they're gross motor oriented like Oliver they need time to run, jump, swing, dance, climb, and yell. If they are fine motor oriented they need time to sort, draw, build, stir, scoop, squish and pinch. But it is also important to recognize where they get their energy from. 

You may have heard the terms 'introverted' and 'extroverted' before but I find many people don't really know what they mean. These terms basically describe where we get our energy from; if you are extroverted you get your energy from people around you and feel drained of energy when you are alone or lacking social stimuli for too long, if you are introverted you get your energy from being alone and feel drained of energy when around people for too long. It is the same for our children. Be sure they aren't spending too much time in situations that could be draining them of their energy and limiting their ability to cope with all the 'more' they have.

I find the best way to balance energy is to try and set a healthy rhythm of energetic release and restful energy recharging; every burst of energetic activity is followed by a mellow 'cooling down time' before starting to ramp up for another energetic activity. For Oliver, who is very social but undoubtedly an introvert, that also means making sure not to over-schedule his social calendar and planning for lots of quiet one-on-one time or recognizing and respecting when he doesn't feel like talking. 


I am often asked what the difference between a spirited child and a child with ADHD is and the short answer is focus. True ADHD means that the child receives stimuli from their environment the same way we all do but lack the ability to choose which of those stimulus is most important to focus on let alone focus on any one thing. A spirited child can and does focus on the most important stimulus, they just may not agree with you about which one is most important in any given moment, and once they're locked in there is no distracting/deterring/redirecting that can get them to let it go until they're ready. (I have a theory that many children diagnosed with ADHD by the educational system may actually be spirited children trapped in a school system that cannot meet their needs. but that's a personal opinion so moving right along…) 

When it comes to keeping the peace with a spirited child I find the best thing to do is to work with this focus as much as possible. If your child has trouble staying on the task you set out for him because he is too focused on the 'beat' of the dish washer it will not kill you to take a moment to show interest in what he's found before trying to lay out your task again, it may even allow you to tie your task in with your child's reality. (example from today: "Wow, that tree branch does look like a dragon's tale! Let's put on your viking boots and go check it out!") but most days you'll find it's easiest just to wait until their attention drifts back to you. Also try planning extra time around things like getting dressed in the morning or arriving at or leaving places so that you can give transitional warnings or count downs and don't feel pressured to rush them along. 

The transitional warnings or countdowns are important. I may have been exaggerating (but only a little) when I said that spirited kids will not let something go once they've focused on it. They will, some spirited children just need to be gently eased from one thing to another. There is no stressor greater to a spirited child (mine anyway) than sudden unexpected change. Talk things out, tell them what to expect, keep reminding, and be ready to reassure them if all the '2 more minutes' in the world won't ease the hurt of leaving the baked-goods section of the grocery store. or ya-know, whatever they're into that day. 


All kids have an independent streak at some point in their lives or several to some extent but, as is the definition we're working with here, spirited kids just seem to be 'more' independent. For me this is the hardest trait to cope with because massive amounts of independence for such a small child comes with equally massive amounts of mess, frustration, and tears (his and mine). I really push myself to recognize and accept when Oliver needs me to back off and on days when I am better at spotting this need we are both much happier. 

Set up your home to accommodate your spirited child at their age and stage. If you read any Montessori resources or blogs you'll find a lot of great ideas for doing this but here's my short list:
Step stools everywhere, only safe items within sight/reach, clothes where they can reach them and pick them, water cups where they can easily fill them, snacks within reach, and brooms and rags where they can get to them (because god forbid you step in to mop up the entire jug of milk he just tried to pour himself, that would be insulting.)

Also remember that everything you do within sight of your spirited child is fair game for them, think of ways they can help because spirited children are so independent that they actually reverse the usual parent-child helping relationship. Trust me, no matter how strong and capable you are, you need your spirited child's help. (or so i've been led to believe)

By making a lot of room in your life for this independence to blossom you will avoid power struggles and give your spirited kid the confidence, control, and responsibility they need to flourish. The word 'uncooperative' used to enter my vocabulary a lot when it came to Oliver but since letting go and respecting his need to do things (all the things!) for himself I have come to realize that he's just eager and independent and there's nothing wrong with that. 

On a more serious note this independence can get a bit scary when it comes to safety. Make sure that you have firm boundaries as to what they can and can't do for themselves. For example Oliver can walk ahead or behind me on the sidewalk but he MUST hold my hand to cross a street or parking lot or he will be carried. Spirited kids will resist these boundaries, they will test them repeatedly so stay close, practice lots, and make sure you are firm for as long as it takes for them to get into the habit. 

perceptiveness and sensitivity:

I often describe some of Oliver's 'quirks' to outsiders as 'sensory issues' since that's the buzz word that people seem to know. I am not discounting that this may actually be the case (we haven't 'officially' looked into it) but it is really common for spirited children to have a hard time coping with certain sensory stimuli. Because spirited children are 'more' perceptive and sensitive than most children it leaves them open to becoming easily overwhelmed. 

I come at this from two sides. First I try really hard to make sure that our home is comfortable for him. We keep radios and televisions on low when they are on but try to keep them off as much as possible, we make sure the lighting we choose is soft and non-irritating, we let Oliver pick clothing and bedding that pass his standards for being 'not scratchy', I only run the washer and dryer when he's sleeping or out of the house because the 'whirring' bothers him and I've stopped using scented products to clean our home or even for my own hygiene because I know it bothers him when things 'stink'. I want our home to be as comfortable for him as it is for us. But I am also working on helping him learn to cope with feeling overwhelmed. 

Here's the kicker to this one though: I may or may not be a little bit 'more' in this department as well so sometimes if there is a sound or smell or bad lighting situation that is overwhelming Oliver chances are it's setting me off as well. Sometimes the best I can hope for is to model an appropriate way to deal with the extra stress, other times I am able to walk him through it. We do a lot of deep breathing and humming, sometimes if we can we find a wall to put our backs on and close our eyes for a few minutes, or duck into a washroom or step outside for a breath of air. find out what seems to set your child off so you can avoid adding stress and come up with ways to cope (that are portable! that's important! this rarely happens at home in our controlled environment) that you can help your child with but that ultimately they will be able to use themselves when they need to. 

There are several other things that can make spirited kids tick, some of which may be surprising to you, I have only listed the ones that a) effect our family the most and b) I have come up with manageable solutions for coping with. If you are struggling, or just curious, I highly recommend the book quoted at the top of this post "Raising Your Spirited Child" by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka for learning to better understand how you can help guide your child through the world being 'more'. In conclusion if all you come away from this post with is that your child is normal (in her own way) then I feel like I've gotten my point across. If you have experience raising spirited kids please comment below and lend some support for those of us who feel in over our heads half the time!  

Monday, November 19, 2012

Letters to Gwenivere

The first year of my daughter's life I wrote her letters monthly. It was something I wanted to do for her, as well as for myself, a reminder of all the things she was doing that sometimes didn't get written about in the day-to-day posts. During her second and now third years of life, I wrote/am writing her letters every 3 months, a "quarterly review" of sorts. I've also taken her picture with the same stuffed dog each time, an easy way to watch her grow. The full collection of letters is HERE, but I wanted to post my most recent one (33 months) for you guys after Valerie's recent post.


Dear Gwenivere,
I don't know why or how this turned into such a big couple of months for you, but I feel like you really turned the corner from a 2 year old to an almost 3 year old. Everything is bigger now... you, your actions, your attitude!

Sometimes you have days when you are such a big kid. You'll sleep until a great time, wake up smiling, eat well, think about questions we ask you and answer thoughtfully, say no thank you and yes please, etc. You had a day like that recently where for dinner you sat there and chomped on ribs, eating the meat right off the bone. I looked at you and though, "My God... I birthed a real human." I mean one that's going to turn into an adult some day. An adult that eats ribs like a pro.

Other days, you still need a little more help to get through. You come a sleep for a bit in our bed in the morning, then need some extra snuggles while getting ready, and the day ends with an I'm too tire to cope meltdown. Normally over something like how many orange slices are in your bowl, or the color of your utensils. Those days are trying for all of us.

We're working on it though. Working on using words to describe our feelings instead of just yelling or whining. We're working on things like being more cooperative when getting ready for bed, so that we can do more fun things before bed. Its always going to be a work in progress, but we're doing it together.

These past few months you've spent a lot of time with your Daddy. Mama has had a number of nights I had to work late, so you guys had "slumber parties." Daddy reads you some books, then lets you fall asleep on the futon, or falls asleep with you on the futon, depending on how long of a day its been for him! We also had our first weekend apart. It was a great weekend for Mama, I needed the special time with my friends, but boy oh boy did I miss you! You are my girl, and it was hard to be away from you. You and Daddy did great though, and I think you guys have gotten a lot closer because of it.

Sometimes its hard for me to watch you grow so quickly. About a month ago, you came home from daycare and handed me your necklace. The one you've been wearing for 2 years, since you were 8 months old. You had asked them to take it off at daycare, you didn't feel like wearing it... and you haven't worn it since. Maybe you will wear it again, maybe not, but that felt like some kind of milestone for me.

We have a little routine we go through every other week or so, when I say to you what a big girl you are becoming, and you agree with me very excitedly... but then I ask you, "But you're still always going to be my baby, right?!" And you always agree with that just as enthusiastically.  ::phew::

I'll let you in on a little secret: No matter what your answer to that question, no matter what age you are when you read this, you really will always be my baby. 

Love you silly goosey,

Ps. At 33 months you are just over 23 lbs (at least on the home scale). You must be going through a growth spurt because you want to eat. all. the. time! Your favorite veggies are green beans and peas, favorite fruit is oranges, and you love chicken and "meat" (what you call steak). You are a dark meat girl like your Mama, so I can't wait to give you a drumstick on Thanksgiving! You still nurse most nights and a lot of mornings, but do fine if I'm not there to nurse you.

You love your blankie, and rotate through a few stuffed animals and baby dolls. You love the colors blue and purple, and also have an affinity for orange. You love football, but the marching band maybe a little bit more. You love watching Elmo in the morning, and your favorite books are Olivia and Drummer Hoff. If we say, "Is everybody ready?" you respond with, "Shake a Leg!"  Home, by Edward Sharpe and the Magnificent Zeros, is now "your song," and you ask for it all the time. You love music in general though and will randomly start singing a myriad of songs randomly throughout the day. Dominic is still your best buddy at school.

As of now, you've decided you want your birthday party to be construction themed because of your love of cranes and all construction vehicles, but diggers especially! We'll see what you think in another month or two!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Guest Post - Eight Ways to Get Kids to Listen

Today I am so pleased to be able to share a post from Chaley-Ann Scott, the amazing woman that wrote the article on Unschooling in The Mother Magazine. 

Chaley-Ann Scott, BA (Hons), IIS, ISA, is a sociologist, writer, parenting counsellor, and mother-of-four. She is a contributing editor to The Attached Family (Attachment Parenting International magazine), and a regular contributor to MotheringNurture, The Green Parent, The Mother, The Child, Kids on the Coast and Otherways. Her first book, The Shepherdess: A Guide to Mothering Without Control,  is available in all good bookstores or online at or


A parenting complaint I hear time and again in my practice is that 'the kids just won't listen'! So what do you do when you have tried explaining, reasoning, reminding, distracting, ignoring, punishing, shaming, bribing - and even begging - but nothing works. Have you just got a 'bad egg'? A future deviant? Is there no hope for your little monster? Don't worry, help is at hand. Shown below are some proven techniques I have used with many families, including those with children who have been diagnosed with ADHD, ODD, and Aspergers.  They get parents to really start thinking about why their child isn't listening to them, and how they can turn that around and restore peace to their home. 

1. Listen to Them

If you want your child to listen to you then you first need to start listening to them. By this I mean REALLY listening, both to their verbal and non-verbal language. Are they out of sorts? Are they overwhelmed, frustrated, unhappy with something? Don't put them in situations that they can't handle just because you feel they 'should' – if they don't like shopping then find a way to do it without them, if they struggle in big groups then avoid those, if they don't like strangers talking to them talk for them, if they become fidgety in restaurants only use drive-thru's or take-aways. We wouldn't dream of forcing a friend to a concert if they hated loud noise or crowds, so why do it to our children? Help them navigate and figure out their world in comfort and, when you miss the early signs that they aren't happy then respond gently. Punishing or ignoring our child when they have a loud emotion (ie.what many parents describe as a 'tantrum' or a 'meltdown') is an opportunity to apologise to our child that we didn't notice they were uncomfortable, to find out what is behind their behaviour, and to try to fix what is often an unmet need.

2. Be Reliable

Do you always say what you mean with your child? Do you make a plan and stick to it? 'I won't be long', 'I'll bring you some cake home today', 'You can watch that tomorrow', 'You can have that after dinner' – typical, seemingly innocent 'promises' that we fully mean at the time but end up breaking because we are busy or our minds are elsewhere. However, to a child, breaking these 'promises' erodes trust and eventually they will stop listening to what we have to say.

3. Be Honest

Are you someone who is always honest with and around your children? Do you ever knowingly tell them 'white lies' to appease them like, 'We'll come back tomorrow' , 'We'll get that game another day' , 'I have no money in my purse right now' , 'Tell the lady I'm not home', 'The shop was closed', 'Don't tell your brother I got you that'? Those little lies build up and, children aren't stupid, they work out quickly if mum and dad are people who tell lies or people who have integrity. Why should they listen to someone who doesn't always tell the truth? Would you?

4. Be Accurate
Motivated by our fear that our kids will get hurt, we tell them all sorts of things and present them as fact just to get them to comply. 'You will fall if you go any higher', 'If you eat sweets your teeth will fall out', 'McDonald's is poison and will make you sick', 'That movie will give you nightmares', 'Video games fry your brain', 'Smoking will kill you'. When these 'facts' turn out to not be true, but just a matter of opinion, mum and dad will become a less sought after source of advice. That can be pretty dangerous when they then turn to peers for advice in their teenage years. By all means, share your views on certain things with your kids but, if you want them to continue listening to you, be wary of scaremongering and giving advice as 'fact' – state your case as your opinion and help them explore other people's viewpoints and their own.

5. Be Playful

Playing with our kids, especially side-by-side activity, is a great way to get kids talking. And, as we have already discussed, the best way to get our children to listen to us is to listen to them. Don't expect them to join you in your world doing things you like, but join them in theirs. What do they love? Why? Get engrossed in their latest game, book, sport, craft that they love, in their space, and share it with them and watch the communication just flow.
6. Reduce the 'No's' and Find the 'Yes's'

If someone said no to your requests numerous times a day how would you feel about that person? Would you feel like complying when they asked something of you? No, neither would I. If your child requests something that isn't agreeable to you (for non-arbitrary reasons) then rather than providing an outright no – try and 'find the yes' and offer acceptable alternatives to both of you. This shows you are really listening to them, and are trying to help them. For example, if your child wants a toy and you can't afford it, rather than say an outright no you could say, 'Sure, let's put it on the wish list and work out ways we can buy it'.  Do you have anything you can sell or trade? What about a second-hand one? Let's work out ways we can save up for it'.  Showing them you are always trying to find ways to help them to get what they want will strengthen their trust in you and ultimately improve your chances they will actually listen to you.

7.  ‘No’ is an acceptable answer

So many parents say to me 'yeah, but sometimes I really do have to say no and when I do I need him to just listen'. This may be a 'No!' or 'Stop!' to serious issues such as hitting a sibling, swearing or screaming in public, or doing something seriously dangerous. Often these can be avoided by being fully present and mindful of the situations we put our child into, but not always. When it does happen it is far more likely our child will listen to a firm 'no' or 'stop' if they are few and far between, and we ourselves accept it when they say 'no' to us. Contrary to popular belief, it is not disrespectful for a child to say ‘no’ to a request from us - quite the opposite.  It shows they trust and respect us to be honest, and don't just blindly comply with our wishes.  And, the more we respect ‘no’ from our child, the more likely our child will respect a 'no' from us.  The other added benefit is that when they do say yes, we will know they have not done it through fear but have been intrinsically motivated to do so. 
8. Be informative

If you follow all the above steps with your child, you will eventually find that providing them with information, feedback, and advice - rather than demands or orders - will result in them listening to you. However, don't always expect them to comply with your request – just as you do with them, they may say no but suggest acceptable alternatives to you both. These techniques will not produce a compliant child, and nor should you want them to, but it will help to produce a reasoning, thoughtful, free-thinking child that has a strong connection with his/her parents, which is something we should all be striving for.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Night Before My Birthday - Book Review And Giveaway

"The moon will soon rise, and the sun has just set,
But it’s still not my birthday yet..."

My little guy, Oliver, loves birthdays. He just turned 3 in September and every week for the six months previous to it he asked incessantly about his party and who would be there and how old he would be and what we would eat. Every birthday party we attended for other children was met with ridiculous amounts of excitement and boisterous renditions of the 'Happy Birthday' song for days leading up and following. But really who could blame him? Who doesn't like birthdays and parties?

I am guessing Oliver's enthusiasm was something he got from me. Since he was born I've put a fair amount of effort into making sure that his birthdays have been special and have created a few traditions for our family to keep it interesting, like telling stories about my pregnancy and his birth or making only his favourite foods on that day. The most intentional tradition I started was to theme his birthday celebrations around our favourite books. His first birthday was a indoor picnic style lunch based on 'The Very Hungry Caterpillar' by Eric Carly; His second a wild rumpus that would make Maurice Sendak, Author and illustrator of 'Where The Wild Things Are' very proud; and just this year we celebrated over cookies at an 'If You Give A Mouse A Cookie' party based on the book by Laura J Numeroff.  With the literary love showing through in our birthday celebrations I was quite Intrigued when I was approached by Joni Rubinstein about her book "The Night Before My Birthday" illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal. 

"The Night Before My Birthday" was written in the spirit of creating family traditions to enhance the excitement and anticipation children seem to bounce with leading up to their birthdays and to highlight how special it is for the whole family to celebrate the birth of their cherished little members. It isn't an everyday book but meant to be read on the eve of the child's birthday as a special tradition. 

In order to write this review we were sent a hardcover keepsake copy of the book and since it was only a few weeks after Oliver's real birthday we totally cheated and read it a couple times (I have since put it away so that it will still be fresh and new and exciting in ten and a half months). When I asked Oliver what he liked best about the book he -of coarse- said that it was about birthdays but when I pressed a little further he seemed to really take to the page about dreams featuring a beautiful illustration of fluffy flying sheep:

"The moon will then rise and glow while I sleep, 
On white puffy clouds like fat fluffy sheep." 

He was also quite impressed by the fact that the book 'knew' he was three years old (The book is written with blank spaces where you can say the age your child is turning each year). 

My favourite part of the book is the extra keepsake pages in the back where you can record the date, your child's name and age, and who read the story that year. I like that there are lots of spaces provided so that many years from now I imagine I will be able to look back and remember several children having this book read to them on the eve of their birthdays. 

I also really appreciate that the images in this book feature families of many different backgrounds and make ups. The lack of diversity in the vast majority of children's literature out there is a whole other post for another day but needless to say the inclusiveness of this book makes me just that much happier to make it a part of our family's birthday traditions. 

This book would make an excellent gift for children of all ages and their family and if you order it from the website $1 of each purchase goes to direct aid and research charities which help children living with serious illnesses reach more birthdays. So really, there's no good reason why you don't need a copy!

Joni has generously offered to give away another copy to one of our readers as part of this review, please fill out the following wigit to gain up to 10 entries plus the chance to earn an entry per day until the contest closes. This contest is open to all and will remain open from today (11/12/2012) until Midnight on Sunday November 25th. The winner will be announced via the Connected Mom Facebook page on Monday November 26th and contacted via email. Good Luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, November 5, 2012

That's Life with a Toddler.

Sometimes I get things done way early. Most of my posts here at Connected Mom are queued up and ready to go not long after I post the last one. Honestly I'm a procrastinator, so I try to get it done the moment I get an idea for a post, while those creative juices are flowing... because otherwise its too easy to let anything else in life take preeminence, then suddenly its Monday at noon and I'm staring at a blinking cursor line with no words coming.

I'm a little behind right now, squeaking this one in just under the line. Life, gets in the way of the perfect plan we have. Balance is hard to come by, and when you are thrown off your game, it can take a number of good days to feel back "on."

Two and a half, almost three, year olds can get in the way of great plans too. Gwen is fun and loving, funny and silly, cute and crazy. She's also a handful, full into the stage of boundary testing, button pushing, and "I do it myself." Normal, age-appropriate, completely and utterly frustrating.

So here are some tips I've shared before, but are worth sharing again... even if only because I could use the reminder! These are what I use to try and have more of the calm days and less of the frustrated ones, to take what "gets in the way" and turn it into "what makes our day different and fun."

1) Age realistic expectations. At 33 months, she is only emotionally able to handle so much. She's still learning what appropriate reactions are and how her actions cause reactions. And you learn by trial and error. So, respond kindly, and move on.

2) Expectations that match with what I want for Gwen in the future. A friend once told me about a very trying morning with her spirited, energetic, intelligent daughter. She delivered her to daycare and asked the teacher, "How do I raise a daughter who is strong, determined, independent, comfortable with her feelings and voices her opinions, but who also listens and always does what I ask her to?!" The answer, of course, is that you don't! But a few tiffs now, as we figure all this out together, is well worth it to foster the independence and determination that will serve her so well in the future.

3) Name the emotion, for both of our sakes! When Gwen is frustrated or sad, I say as much... "I see you are frustrated/mad/upset because of xyz..." I do it to help her figure out her emotions, but I do it to remind myself of them as well. Do I love crying because she wants something she can't have? Nope. But I do know what its like to be overly tired after a long day and have something be extremely frustrating and almost too much to bare. Naming her emotion helps me put myself in her shoes.

4) Evaluate if I really need to distract/dissuade/say no. Gentle/AP parenting is not (contrary to what some media might have you believe) permissive parenting in the negative sense. But at the suggestion of a smart mama, I started looking at the why I didn't want Gwen to do certain things. Is it because of a safety reason? Then stay the course! Is it because it will be a little messy and I don't want to clean up? Hmm, there are times this is valid, but many when its not a great reason.

5) Teach respect by modeling respect. Gwen is an equal member of this family. Yes, her dad and I have the life experience, and as her parents we will ask her to defer to our judgement many a time. However she deserves our respect as fully as we deserve hers. So we listen when she talks, we say excuse me and thank you and please, and we try to give our reasons/explain our actions when we do need her to defer to us. "Because I said so," or "because I'm the mom," are not explanations, and in the long run they don't help her understand that the "no" she just heard isn't a no just for that exact moment, but is a request not to repeat a particular action.

Its so easy to get overwhelmed when life gets hectic, there are deadlines to meet, and this little person just doesn't seem to want to play independently even though they do it at this time every single other day. Or they don't want to go to sleep even though you know they are exhausted. Or...

I'm not perfect. Not by a long shot. I do get overly frustrated, slip up and yell sometimes. That can be a learning time for us both though too, because when I catch myself, I excuse myself to calm down, then come back and apologize. No one is perfect, including this Mama, and I want my girl to know that. People make mistakes, and the fact that we can apologize, hug, and still love each other afterwards, just as much as we did before, well... I think that's one of the best lessons I can give us all. Hopefully it is the one that will keep her coming to me when she makes her own mistakes.

In the meantime, I'll do my best to enjoy this toddler life. And take advantage of every free moment this crazy life allows me.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

A Happy Birthday Letter

Today my youngest child turns two. He is our last baby. I will never again experience the joy (and the crazy) of guiding a brand new person from sleepy, milk-drunk freshness to walking, talking, adventuring toddler.

I intended to write birthday letters to each of the kids each year to give to them later on. I succeeded for the first four years of motherhood. (So, Agent E is six, but she only has four letters. Agent J is four, but she only has two letters.)

I did write one for Agent A last year on his first birthday, but honestly it's way shorter than his sisters' first birthday letters. (I blame that first whirlwind year of having three kids under five. How exactly did I survive that again?)

So, as I attempt to compose a note to my precious little boy on the second anniversary of his birth, what do I tell him?

The Birthday Boy
Some things I'll likely include would be the following:

. . . a few tidbits he might find interesting later on, such as his height and weight (35 inches, 27 pounds), his favorite food (hmm, that one might be hard to narrow down), and how he likes to "swim" in the bathtub.

. . . that he is "still" nursing and calls it Momma Milk (unlike his sisters, who had made up words for it at that age).

. . . the words he uses for his sisters—Va Va (Eva) and Ju Ju (Julia)—and how I wonder if those will stick as they grow. (My sister, whose real name is Rosemarie, has been "Mimi" for nearly 50 years courtesy of our oldest brother.)

. . . that we moved back to the states this year (he was born in Italy) on June 1st when he was exactly 19 months old, and what our traveling journey was like. Because you'd think you could never forget a full day of international travel with a toddler (plus two siblings) yet someday we'll be scratching our heads thinking, "how old was he? what month (year!) was it again?"

. . . my admission that well before his second birthday arrived I passed on my guilty food pleasure of cheddar sourdough pretzels. (Which his sisters don't like. It's just a Momma/Agent A thing.)

. . . a bit about his vocabulary, quite extensive compared to his sisters' at the same age. Likely because he hears them talking nonstop every waking moment. And they like to ask him to say new words.

. . . that his very first sentence was "I want mum mum" (but his current favorite thing to say is "Daddy—home—airplane").

. . . a story about his experience with trick or treating last night, where he became an instant "pro" at the knocking-holding-out-the-bag-smiling-and-waving-thanks bit by watching his partners in crime.

One thing I have not yet determined is when I will share these letters. When they turn 16? 18? 21? When they head off to college? leave home? get married? (Heck, Agent E would get a kick out of them now, at six.)

Do you write letters to your children on their birthdays or other special occasions? What do you include and what do you intend to do with them?

Thanks for reading and have a blessed day.