Friday, October 29, 2010

Friday Giveaway- win this hat for your demon spawn

Does your devil child need a bright red hat to warn others of his hidden second personality?  Tell me why your child/grandchild/cousin/other cranky kid deserves to wear this custom, homemade devil hat, and I will send it to the person with the best answer. 

Comment here or on Facebook.

Hat comes in sizes Evil Infant, Terrible Toddler, or Pain in the Ass Preschooler.  Winner will be announced on Halloween.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Separation Anxiety

The problem with a child's separation anxiety is that the more they scream and cling to us, begging us not to leave, the less we actually want them around.  At least that's how it is my case.

I love Elana deeply.  She is my first born, the light of my life, the love of my heart, and the reason for the white hairs that are prematurely sprouting from my head.  Elana suffers from severe separation anxiety.  This started approximately three years and six months ago (she was born February 2007; you do the math) and waxes and wanes with the new moon.  One day she will be the happiest child, bouncing into preschool with a smile on her face and ready to paint her body in every color of the rainbow.  The next day she is digging her fingernails in my arms and screaming at the top of her lungs "I will NOT stay at preschool."  And boy, does she mean it.
(Photo courtesy of Karin Asensio.)

Everyone says- "Don't worry.  They only cry for a few minutes then they are happy as clams."  Well, Elana is more of a hyena than a clam.  Her episode can last hours, and I am not exaggerating!  Last year, while Elana was attending our loving co-op preschool, the director (who had been working with preschool age children for the last 120 years), called me back to school saying "I have never done this before, but please take her home."  When I got to school, Elana looked up at me sheepishly from the director's lap and immediately began singing and giggling.  Part of me wanted to hug her and smother her with kisses, the other part just wanted to smother her.

My husband offers this advice: "She just really loves you.  It's sweet.  Let her stay home."  I wonder how sweet he would find it to have a 33-pound boil with lungs growing out of his right leg?

Obviously my husband is of no use, so I turned to the experts for advice.
  • Dr. Sears advises to spend more one-on-one time with her.  I do think a lot.  In fact I do this so much that Maisy (our 18-month-old) is practically raising herself, the poor kid.  I mean how many year-and-a-half-olds know how to fix their own breakfast?
  • Parenting expert Kimberley Clayton Blaine suggests taking the "blankie"to school.  Unfortunately, Elana's blankie is a pacifier and I absolutely detest when a 3-year-old wanders around with a plug stuck in her mouth.  Ted says that it is not that bad, but I have major anxiety about Elana never giving it up.  I have visions of her at 17 apologizing to her boyfriend (or girlfriend) that she can't make out right now, she needs her paci time. 
  • Brianne Collecchio, an early childhood education specialist, recommends giving your child control over as much as possible.  Would you like an apple or a banana in your lunch?  Would you like to wear the pink dress with the flowers, the pink dress with the butterflies, the pink dress with the ribbons, or the pink dress with the paint stains?  The more the child has control over, the more she will be willing to accept the things she doesn't.  
  • All the experts agree- be positive, confident and brief when saying goodbye.  Well, I royally screwed this up today.  The 45-minute drop off that ended with me pulling out a few of my eyelashes was not exactly brief nor positive. 

At the height of Elana's sleep anxiety I consulted with her pediatrician. Her answer was a quote from Pinkalicious "You get what you get and you don't get upset." Gee thanks for the advice Doctor, maybe Fancy Nancy has some pearls of wisdom, too.

After devouring every URL with the words "separation", "anxiety", and "toddler" associated with it, yesterday Ted and I consulted with a local child psychiatrist on the best way to deal with Elana's anxiety issues.  She had lots of helpful ideas including praising her for the positive behavior, like when she goes to school with no fuss, or when she doesn't scream at 130 decibels.  She also suggested to not take the behavior so personally and hinted that I might be projecting my own anxieties from childhood. Well, isn't that what parents are supposed to do? How else are the children going to grow up with a healthy does of overbearing mother issues? 

Most surprisingly she mentioned that the behavior may not be anxiety, but manipulation.  There is a simple test for this, if you are able to buy your way out of a tantrum with a new toy, ice cream treat, or a pony, then the kid is a master manipulator.  I tested this theory with Elana and her going to preschool fits; if she could manage two days without freaking out at drop-off I would get her a new princess doll.  She immediately calmed down and said "I need Sleeping Beauty," before kissing me on the cheek and skipping off to the art table.

The therapist's final suggestion was for Ted and me to sit down and concoct a plan of action for each of Elana's major obstacles.  Here is our new preschool plan:
  1. Calmly explain to Elana the schedule for the day, what will happen, when I will pick her up, and so on.
  2. Help Elana to find a special transitional object for when she gets sad.  We are using special heart stickers from the book The Kissing Hand.
  3. At school quickly help Elana get engaged in an activity then have a short and sweet good-bye. 
  4. If she starts to get anxious reassure her that she is going to do great and show confidence in both her and your ability to leave. 
  5. If all else fails, buy the teachers a gift certificate to a local spa.  They will need the release after listening to the Elana's excruciatingly loud screeching. 


    Friday, October 22, 2010

    Friday Giveaway- Win this book!

    Tell me what overly-indulgent way you lavished your first born that the second, third, fourth, etc... children never dreamt of requesting.  If you don't have a 2nd born (or first for that matter), tell me how you or your sibling were pampered as the first baby.

    Best answer (and by best, I mean the response I like best) will be posted on Monday.

    Monday, October 18, 2010

    The Overextended Toddler

    When Elana was six weeks old I introduced her to my 17-year-old cousin.  After appropriately oohing and aahing over her spit up and gas-induced smiles, Alex asked me "What activities are you going to sign Elana up for when she's two?"  At that point I hadn't thought much past getting Elana to sleep in three-hour stretches, so I responded "Oh, you know, the normal- toddler pageantry and opera lessons, but if she shows an aptitude for curling, I'll enroll her in that too."

    Then a few days ago, someone wrote in to my parents' group asking where to buy a swim suit for her 2-month-old daughter who was about to start swim lessons.  Seriously?  Swimming lessons at two months old?  At two months the child is just beginning to see beyond black and white objects, she is just barely able to follow your voice; does she really need to learn how to blow bubbles now? I began thinking about the variety of opportunities we now are able to provide our young ones, and whether these were a positive addition to our parenting.
    Elana and friends at ballet.  It is really just an opportunity to wear tutus.
    (Photo courtesy of Karin Asensio.) 
    Here is just a sampling of the class options for a 3-year-old in San Francisco: hula, ballet, hip hop, tap, body movement, young zoologist, art, soccer, swimming, tennis, toddler yoga, circus training, karate, tae kwon do, music, drumming, taiko drumming, cooking and baking, Spanish, and Mandarin.  I don't know about you, but I certainly don't want to teach a group of six preschoolers beating drums or how to make marinara.

    Many of these classes are upwards of $20/class and quite a few families shuffle their 18-month-olds off to three or four classes a week (swimming, dance, music, and gymnastics).  If a child takes four $20 classes per week, these parents can be spending nearly $4,000/year on classes for an 18-month-old!  Is all of this good for the child? What about some good old-fashioned rolling-in-the-mud time?  I know that it would be completely taboo to stick them in a playpen for a half an hour, but how about some quiet play time in their rooms, is that acceptable?  Or maybe just head to the local playground for an hour?

    Moreover, how many times have you seen a parent drag their screeching tot into the gymnastics, ballet, or swimming class.  The kid obviously doesn't want to participate, but her parent sure do.  Ted and I are often those parents.  For a few months Ted took Elana to Saturday morning soccer class.  On most days he would have to promise her an ice cream cone to get her to step both feet onto the field.  Once she got past the warm-ups, Elana would then spend the rest of the class playing with the colored cones and picking pieces of fake grass off the Astro Turf.  On the other days she plainly refused to go, screaming bloody murder when he tried to tie her shoe laces.
    Elana "playing" soccer.  I think that this photo is the only time she actually interacted with the soccer ball.
    Of course we all want our children to find their special talents.  So, I ask myself, is the primary job of a parent to give our kids every possible opportunity to prove themselves geniuses, or is it our job to make them self-sufficient and confident citizens?  I'm not sure that we can do both at the same time.  When we engage them with constant stimulation and organized activity, how will they learn to play on their own?

    Child development specialists agree.  While most are pro parent/child free-play classes, many have spoken out against the structured activities that pressure the child to learn.  In short, the run around the toddler gym playing with balls and trampolines is great, while the one hour Mandarin lesson with flashcards and homework, not so much.

    Maisy at art class.  The teacher tried to convince me that her painting was special and that she had true talent.  I disagreed and promptly recycled it at home.
    Recently a mother asked a local parenting group for advice on how to help her almost 2-year-old begin reading.  Her reasoning being that "he just loves books so much".  Many other parents replied eager to learn how to make their toddlers literate.  Again the experts caution that this is not beneficial to the child.  At this age, kids should be learning to run, play, draw, and throw wild tantrums to get their wishes; they do not need to learn how to contract cannot to can't, or delve into the differences between there, their, and they're.  And honestly, do we really want to spend hours and months teaching them phonics when we could be spending that time ignoring them at the playground?  Do we really need them to be baby geniuses?  My kids seem pretty content looking at books, turning pages, and occasionally soaking them in the bathtub.

    Besides overextending our children, we are overextending ourselves.  At the end of the day I find myself lacking downtime where the kids play in the backyard, and I pretend to listen to them while quietly playing Backgammon on my iPhone.  I long for the summer days when I didn't have to awake Elana at 7:30 to drag her out of bed kicking and screaming, force-feed her breakfast, and bribe her to get dressed and out the door to get her to school by 8:45.  Maisy and I then have a few hours to run errands, hit the playground, and eat lunch, before picking Elana up and rushing home for nap time.  By 3:30 I must wake the kids to get them to dance class, or a play date, by 4:00.  At 5:30, I dash home to make dinner, feed, bathe, and put them to bed so that Ted and I can have a few hours to ourselves.  At this point, Ted often wants to spend "quality time" with me, but I am so mentally and physically exhausted that all I really want to do is plop on the couch and watch an episode of 30 Rock.

    How do we fix this and get back to the olden days where kids played like kids and adults carefully ignored them?  I'm not sure how, and I'm not sure if I want to put in the effort.  In all honesty, I am a bit afraid that without the activities I could be left having to entertain the kids myself!

    Just out of curiosity, while reading Dr. Seuss's There's a Wocket in My Pocket with the girls I pointed to a page and asked them what it said.  Elana replied with authority, "Corte unde boom.  That's Spanish."  Maisy replied, "Blue Elmo".  I guess they aren't going to join Mensa anytime soon.

    Monday, October 11, 2010

    Traveling with Tots

    Ted and I were returning with the girls from a friend's wedding in Los Angeles.  It was supposed to be a mildly painless flight from LAX to SFO; the total flight time is less than an hour.  As we were about to board, Ted informs me that two of our seats have been upgraded to first class, leaving just one seat in coach (since Maisy is under two, we didn't bother to buy her a seat).  Why a red flag did not immediately go up in my mind, I don't know, but I responded "mm hmm."  Ted boarded first with Elana and they nonchalantly took their seats in 2C and 2D.  He then handed me my boarding pass for 13C.  In disbelief, and not wanting to cause a scene, I yanked the pass from his hand and trudged back to economy.

    After situating the diaper bag, my purse, Maisy's lambie, and Maisy into our two square-feet of space, my seat mate boards.  She is a very lovely, kind, and gentle elderly woman who makes the appropriate comments about Maisy's cuteness.  However, she is also of the size "extra big-boned" and requires the arm rest to be up in order to accommodate her additional love.

    Maisy's adorable personality immediately transforms as soon as we pull back from the gate and prepare for take off.  She is just learning how to walk, and refuses to be stationary in my lap for the next 15 min.  Maisy arches her back, screams, flails her arms in all directions, and her face turns bright red.  Passengers all around us look at me as if I am performing an exorcism on the baby.  I try to give apologetic looks, but it is hard to multitask while restraining a psychotic infant.

    In the meantime I glance up to first class where Ted is watching an episode of "Glee" on his iPad.  Elana, who missed her nap that afternoon, is curled up in the spacious seat next to him, completely dead to the world.  At that moment I do not know if I could detest my husband more. 

    After 25 min of trying to placate a stubborn and determined Maisy, I gather up my things, march up to first class and take over 2C.  Without actually speaking to him, I send Ted back to economy and let Maisy play on the extra wide seat while I wedge myself in the floor space.  Elana is still asleep.  For the next 20 minutes Maisy alternates between playing contently in her seat with my iPhone, poking Elana in the nose, and telling me "no, no, no" every time I try to share the seat cushion.  Predictably, the exorcism restarts as soon as the flight attendant gets the cabin ready for landing. 

    As we deboard the plane, Ted (who is carrying a deep expression of guilt) turns to me and says "Well, that flight wasn't so bad," just as I was about to tell him "Well, that flight took two years off my life expectancy."  We have a silent and uneventful drive to our house and I leave Ted to unload the two girls from the car so that I can pour myself a glass of wine.

    One friend with multiple children, who was tired of always being stuck with the baby flight after flight, found a clever solution.  A few minutes before the plane was to board she began gathering all the luggage, diaper bags, the stroller, and the car seats.  Her husband, a bit confused, asked her if she needed any help.  "Oh, no" she responded, "you just get the baby".  Although her legroom was a bit crowded that flight, her lap was not.

    Another good friend gives her daughter a dose of some drug that is only available in Australia which puts their daughter right to sleep.  I would be all over this, but Ted is adamant about not giving our children medicine that are not FDA approved (he can be so prudish).

    There is no faster way to add the dark lines of aging to your skin than to travel with two kids three and under.  It does get better as they grow older.  I am anxiously awaiting the day Maisy can sit still and watch Cinderella on a mini-DVD player.
    In the meantime, the the website offers these tips when traveling with babies and toddlers:
    • Wear footware (for you and your children) that easily slip on and off.
    • Allow extra time.  When you have kids everything takes twice as long.
    • Place a small bag with one diaper, wipes, and a changing pad in the seat pocket in front of you.
    • Use disposable bibs.
    • Wrap toys for added entertainment value.
    • At the airport, strap your toddler into a child's harness, lease, or muzzle.
    • Bring a baby sleeping bag so that your precious child does not have to come in contact with scratchy airline seats.
    Married with Toddlers offers these tips for traveling with babies and toddlers:
    • A round or two at an airport bar before boarding.
    • A box of ear plugs to offer those passengers unfortunate enough to be seated near you.
    • Treats, the kind that you don't usually let the kids have.  These should include: gummy bears, lollipops, and M&M's.
    • iPad, Sony PSP, and a DVD player to be rotated every 5 min between each child.
    • Benodryl, for the kids and you.  The more potent the better.  I prefer the "thin strips", these are easiest to administer.
    • Extra change of clothes for you and the children, in case they should spill juice, pee themselves, or vomit during the trip. 
    • Best tip of all- LEAVE THE KIDS WITH GRANDMA!!!
    So now it is your turn.  What's your best tip for traveling with tots?

      Wednesday, October 6, 2010

      For the love of God, SLEEP!!!!

      At 3:00 in the morning Elana woke up screaming.  Ted was away on a business trip, so I dragged my ass out of bed and to investigate the issue.  "Mommy, I need a hug."  Ok, i think, I can do this.  With a quick hug and a kiss I tuck her back in.

      At 3:20 Elana screams again.  "What's wrong?" I ask.  "I'm hungry," she responds.  She's never tried this one before, and at this point I am too tired to argue so I toss her a slice of wheat bread and shuffle back to bed.

      At 3:48 Elana crawls in bed with me.  She tosses and turns for 20 minutes then announces that my bed is too lumpy and she needs to go back to her own bed where she starts to sing "Clementine" loudly, very loudly.

      At 4:35 I make a deal with God: If you help Elana to go back to sleep I will cut off my left pinkie.  God doesn't believe me.

      At 4:50 in the morning I begin to really hate my child.  I'm having a hard time distinguishing between her face and that of Heath Ledger as The Joker. I contemplate giving her a tranquilizer, then decide that Ted wouldn't like that idea very much.

      At 5:05 I get tough and firmly tell her that she has to go back to bed, or else!  She calls my bluff.

      At 5:45 I promise her a new princess doll in the morning if she goes back to sleep.  She pretends to, but then bangs her feet on the wall connecting our rooms for emphasis.

      At 7 AM she is ready to go to Target, but I was still in a slight coma with only 3.5 hours of sleep; definitely not in a state to operate heavy machinery.  Aren't these sleep issues supposed to be over now?  She's 3 and a half for god's sake!

      I am a firm believer that each parent needs to do what is right for him/her with regards to sleep training.  If co-sleeping with your child until they head to college works for you, great.  However, if you are like me, and need every minute of that precious sleep, sleep training (cry-it-out) isn't a bad option either. 

      Ted and I sleep trained both of our children.  When Elana was 9 and a half months old we reluctantly started the training after a pediatrician told us to do it before they gain "will power" at 10 months. But, with Maisy I was counting down the hours until she was 6-months old (the arbitrary age I felt would be socially appropriate).  As the sun set on the 180th day of her existence, so did Maisy's option to feed in the night.  With a kiss and a hug, I laid her in her bed and told her that I would see her in the morning.  She nestled into bed with her lambie.
      All went great until 2 AM, when Maisy awoke ready for a bottle.  I, patiently, turned the monitor off, and went back to sleep with a pillow over my head.  Ted, waited anxiously in bed for her cries to subside.  They did, well over an hour later.  The next few nights were repeats of the first, and I had to convince Ted of sticking to the game plan "You gotta keep your eyes on the prize!"  After nearly a week, Maisy was sleeping through the night, and so were we, mostly.

      It was during our first attempt to sleep train Elana that I had an idea for a new service for parents, I call it "The Sleep Trainer."  He is a 40 something male with no children, and a belly that is an obvious byproduct of a six-pack a day.  During the first few days of sleep training he camps outside of the baby's room with a can of Budweiser and a Sports Illustrated or two.  He monitors the cries, and is trained to know when something is really wrong, like if the baby is choking on her own spit, or she has flung herself out of the crib.  Only during these dire circumstances does he intervene.  The parents, on the other hand, find a restful place to sleep (the neighbor's house, a hotel, in their own room with a portable fan on high and earplugs).  I would have paid a pretty penny for this guy, and I am sure I could have marketed him to my new mommy's group.

      It's no new idea that parents of young children lose sleep.  One study showed that parents lose an average of 6 months of sleep during the first 2 years of a child's life.  By this report, Ted and I have lost more than 10 months of sleep between Elana and Maisy.  And, this only accounts for the kids, what about all the pregnancy insomnia we had while we were nurturing them inside our bodies.

      Sleep deprivation is torture- really, truly torture.  The military has been using it for years as an intelligence gathering tool, after a few nights of no sleep I will confess to killing JFK.  Not only does it make you drowsy during the drive to preschool, but it affects both your physical and mental health.  Here are some of the documented side effects of not getting your beauty sleep-
      • Weight gain!  Researchers have found that less sleep results in a slower metabolic rate and you know what that means- that pregnancy weight gain won't be going anywhere, anytime soon.
      • Increase in the aging process.  You see all those fine lines and wrinkles that now give your face "character"?  Well, that is just people finding a nice way to say- "You look tired (and old)."  Before I had children i used to be mistaken for a good five years younger than my true age.  Now, people guess somewhere a few years above my age; I try not to slap them too hard.
      • Depression.  Are you irritable and overly sensitive?  Although you have every right to be, you are after all parenting young kids, unfortunately sleep deprivation leads to depression and depression can lead to more sleep deprivation.  It's a truly heinous cycle.
      So, what to do with Elana?  I decided to see what the see what the experts have to say about 3 yr old sleep issues. Good ol' Dr. Sears always gives the same advice- co-sleep, that and let her start nursing again for extra nurture. Well, this well is all dried up and although bringing her into our bed does sound like an easy fix, it never plays out so well. Elana's infatuation with all things mommy requires her to have at least 12 points of contact with me at any given time. If she could, she would sleep directly on my face.  I am a light sleeper and suffer from bouts of insomnia, so needless to say, i don't dig this arrangement.

      So now I turn to Dr. Marc Weissbluth.  I just finished reading his chapter on preschool age children and have learned that Elana's daytime tantrums are a result of her lack of night sleep (big shocker!).  To curb Elana's night time waking he suggests the following:
      1. Establish a regular bedtime routine.  Well, we have been doing that for 42 months now.
      2. Reduce parent involvement, in other words ignore her.  We have repeatedly tried this one, but Elana has the lungs of a banshee and the determination of a cheetah stocking its prey.  Literally, she could wake up the neighbor's dead grandfather, not to mention Maisy.
      3. Lock the child in her room.  This is a fabulous idea, and  long ago we switched the doorknobs on Elana's door to keep her in.  Lately we have found her trying to jimmy the lock with a credit card.
      4. Bribery- although he refers to these as "sleep rewards".  Weissbluth suggests putting a piece of candy under her pillow once she falls back asleep, or rewarding her with a special pastry for breakfast if she sleeps through the night.  Hmm... Maybe tonight I will offer her a pony?
      Since misery truly does love company, the best way i have found to deal with sleep deprivation is to find others in the same boat, and get rid of your friends with perfect children.  So, tell me dear readers, what is your worst nighttime disaster?