Category Archives: Toddlers

Month Six: The (Sometimes Wild) World Around Her

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Maybe not the most relaxing…

She sleeps in her big red stroller as we navigate the city crosswalks. I’ve learned to look ahead for curbs so I know where I’ll be able to get off and on the sidewalk before the walking man stops blinking and the cars swarm every inch of available asphalt.

Navigating San Francisco’s streets was much easier when I didn’t have two kids. Now the cursing bums, racing cars, and excrement-ridden streets present a gauntlet obstacle course. Her big sister stops to pick up leaves and I cringe at what might be on her hands. A bath is definitely in order.

We cross the path of a homeless woman drinking a forty. She has no hair and her makeup is thick, as though she performed on stage all week and didn’t bother to wash it off. She mumbles something about E being cute. E stops and looks her in the eyes, curious. I nudge her along but she sees something in the woman.

“You’re so pretty,” she says with complete wonder, as if she’s looking at an entirely different person than the rest of us see, if we even bother to glance her direction at all. I’m certain she’s the only one to look this woman in the eyes all day.

The woman stares back, speechless.

“She thinks you’re pretty,” I say as I pull E down the street to keep pace with her dad, who is pushing the stroller. After years of living in Berkeley, we know better than to let our children visit unfamiliar homeless people.

“You’re really pretty!” E yells from a few yards down the street, her eyes still glued to the woman despite being dragged the other direction.

I’m touched but also a little heartbroken. There’s no good way to explain to a three-year-old why she can’t stop and talk to this woman. Homelessness and mental illness are among the concepts that must wait, at least for now.

Last week my sister’s boyfriend had to put his dog down and E overheard us talking about it. Since then we’ve fielded a barrage of questions about life and death and who can possibly make the dog’s heart work again. She wants to believe doctors can fix all hearts. And, hearts, of course, are the magical secret to what keeps us alive. Adding homelessness to the list of big life ideas just feels like too much right now.

The rest of the weekend in the city passes without much drama. We get smarter and avoid long walks through the CBD. I’m acutely aware of how suburban we’ve become and how sheltered our children are already, but I prefer it this way, while they’re this little.

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Silly me for thinking we’d use two beds!

We order room service and enjoy the calm of our hotel room, fourteen stories up. The girls do their own thing while we eat and it’s as peaceful a dinner as I can remember in the last three years. The next day we go to the Academy of Sciences and M sleeps most of the time as her sister runs and explores, chasing real birds on the lawn outside and hiding from pretend earthquakes in the simulator.

For dinner, we decide to be brave and try a restaurant two blocks from our hotel. It’s the kind of place we would’ve picked before we had children. Stellar reviews, seven tables, authentic Italian cuisine. It also promises minimal street time and the possibility of sitting through a real, grown-up meal. Our first, alone, as a family of four.

We start off strong with M asleep in the carrier and E still in good spirits, a miracle really after such a busy day. I ignore the older woman at the table by the door, who loudly announces this isn’t a place she’d bring children. We’re not talking five star gourmet. This is a quaint, hole in the wall on a busy street. We’re not the only family present.

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Moments before the pizza incident.

M awakens after the first course and is all smiles. A relief, we just might make it through a whole meal! Then the waiter delivers the pizza and she sticks her little fingers straight into the hot dough and starts wailing. There’s no coming back. We get doggie bags and finish our meal in our room, a funny memory for later, despite my present disappointment. To console ourselves, we order two huge, but sadly mediocre, pieces of cake from room service.

Our first adventure to the city ends and we lie awake in bed at home, talking. E is sad to leave the castles, insistent we should’ve stayed forever. Out of nowhere, she finishes the evening with a sort of revelation.

“You know that woman I said was pretty, Mommy?”

“Yes…”

“She could’ve saved N’s dog.”

“What do you mean?”

“She was special, Mommy.”

An angel, perhaps? Or maybe just the excellent imagination of a three-year-old.

We’ll probably never know, but it’s a story I plan to keep for always. M six months old, a happy observer of this miraculous, crazy world, and E, almost 3.5 years, already throwing herself into the complex mystery of it all. I fall asleep between my two little loves, grateful to be in my own bed.

Three Months & Three Years

Instead of keeping a regular baby book for the girls, I’ve started compiling my written memories for them, including these posts. I’m catching up today on both three months and three years.

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I’ve been trying for months to time a picture of all three of us. Someday I’ll get one where everyone is looking AND smiling!

***

Three Months

18339091_10105530321233743_1803277936_oOh, little Miriam. The more I get to know you, the more I discover your joy. You laugh and smile with such ease. You love watching your sister play with toys. You’re happiest facing out to the world. You move your body to show us how eager you are to jump off our laps and run around.

The mom guilt has been more real this time. With your sister, I only had to focus on her. Now I have you both and feel bad I don’t spend more time just sitting and holding you. But you don’t seem to mind. You love your swing and activity mat. You’re happy cuddled up against me while we sleep.

At first I tried to fight you into your own space at night, but I’ve decided to embrace the closeness because we often don’t get that same time when the sun is out. Still, I try my best to give you little moments throughout the day. Maybe that’s why you wake up at 5AM, so we get to be alone together. Thank goodness you seem so content. Getting to know you is a gift.

Three months, already.

***
Three Years (a couple months late)

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One of the best afternoons of my life was also one of the simplest. A few weeks before M arrived, E and I went to the park with Grandma. It was an unusually warm January day and while Grandma basked in the sun, E and I went looking for worms in the swollen creek.

We’d just finished one of the biggest rain storms in recent memory and everything was alive and flowing. Instead of worrying about what needed to happen next, I allowed time to stretch endlessly before us. We turned over every rock we could find, we poked our sticks into the creek bed, and we laughed. She held my hand and I did my best to squat with my pregnant belly beside her, again and again.

After months of working five days a week, this was exactly the afternoon I needed. Weekends while working were filled with to-do’s and I’d missed those days where we just spent time together, exploring and seeing the world through new eyes. As we drove home from the park, I cried bittersweet tears because I knew it was the last time we’d have those moments alone, before her sister arrived. Sure, we’d still have our solo dates, but life would never be exactly the same as it was in that moment, just the two of us.

Three years old has been a flurry of moments, some incredibly intense, others undeniably sweet. From being told “You’re the greatest, greatest mommy!” to what seems like mere minutes later receiving angry commands to go my room, I can attest the term “threenager” isn’t entirely in jest. Still, my love for her only grows as she’s better able to articulate her thoughts and I get to know her even better each day.

Happy belated third birthday, E.

Two.

12842543_10104252860195903_1581912007_oLittle feet hit hard against my knees.

When did she get so long?

She screams as I press her tight against me. Memories of colic flooding back. Now she’s bigger and I know it will stop within minutes instead of hours. Still, night terrors bring all the same feelings back. Please. Make. It. Stop. Please.

Two years, today.

I’ve revisited each moment of anticipation for the past week. Going into the hospital to get checked. Sleeping every afternoon to build strength for the nightly contractions. Returning to the hospital again. An entire family anxious in the waiting room. And, finally, at 8:27 this morning, the moment when she was handed to me and everything changed.

Two years.

Everything is Thomas the Train now, even the little boy undies she’d prefer to wear outside. Obligatory morning hugs for her “grumpy” dogs. “I missed you” breaking and healing my heart simultaneously. Embraces worthy of a luchador, making me a little sorry for those maybe not-so-grumpy dogs. Wash everything, hands and blankies, but never teeth. “Mine” for all things she wants and “yours” for all things she doesn’t. The sweetest sleeping face I’ve ever seen, legs that seem to reach for the far end of the bed, or more often her dad’s face.

My growing girl. My little love. Sometimes I still can’t believe you’re real.

 

Two.

Letting Go for the Sake of Balance

I realized I was so focused on trying to find a way to work from home that I wasn't actually focusing on what matters most when I'm at home.
I realized I was so focused on trying to find a way to work from home that I wasn’t actually focusing on what matters most when I’m at home. My family.

Something happened last summer. I was suddenly in turbo drive. After nearly a year and a half of being in total mommy mode, all my other curiosities flooded back. I wanted to do EVERYTHING. Teach, write, start a business, work for my husband, take care of my family…

I felt like supermom. I could do it all. And, I did, for about six months and then it became too much. I found myself less present with my family. I wasn’t exercising as much as I needed. I couldn’t keep up around the house. I forgot what it felt like to sit on the couch. Still, I couldn’t decide what to let go. I liked it ALL so how could I make a choice?

Thankfully, I had this nagging feeling time would tell. Oh, patience, a lesson I must need again and again. And, just like that, a new (part-time!) teaching opportunity I’ve been lusting after presented itself. Suddenly everything else made sense. Teaching, writing, family were non-negotiable.

It all feels a little obvious as I write this now. After all, I taught and wrote before my daughter was born, but I had been so focused on keeping myself at home as much as possible that I’d lost track of why I wanted to be home in the first place, to be with my family. By letting go and being out of the house a bit more, I’m actually able to be more present in all aspects of my life.

Even so, I had fun experimenting with my previously dormant entrepreneurial spirit. I learned a lot. Especially about margins and what my time is worth. I let myself be a hummingbird and I have renewed faith it will prove useful somewhere down the road.

For now, Wandertots is mostly on hold. At first I thought it would require a lot of humility to share this but instead it feels empowering. We should have the right to experiment and put ourselves out there without worrying about how it makes us look. I have no trouble taking ownership over the fact that I have a lot of interests and love learning through experimentation.

I’m still fulfilling orders and have oddly become the queen of selling kid’s headphones, so if you want any busy items, get in touch. I’ll give you a good discount for being a loyal reader. That’s the irony. Wandertots received a ton of interest and still receives regular orders, it’s just not the best home-based model, or at least not the way I’m doing it.

Whew.

Sharing all that feels like the load is getting lighter and I can focus again. If you’ve been in my shoes of doing more than you can handle, I wish you the patience and awareness to let what matters most float to the top. It’s not easy letting anything go, but the last few weeks have felt so much better for me. I’m even writing again, something that had fallen to the bottom because it seemed the least profitable. But I guess that’s just it. You never know, you just have to keep working at what calls you, even when sometimes you’re called multiple places at once.

10 Toddler Wrangling Tips

They're more powerful than they look.
They’re more powerful than they look.

Up until recently, I found myself wincing at the idea of E turning two or transforming into a “three-nager” on her third birthday. While I like to joke at twenty two months she’s already solidly a two-year-old, the reality is she’s also a lot of fun. Enough fun I’m not so worried anymore.

Sure, she throws some pretty intense tantrums and is about as stubborn as they come, but she also has such wonder about the world around her. Halloween, Christmas, snow… Everything familiar to me is an amazing new source of joy. And, as far as the hard stuff goes, I keep discovering little tricks that make our lives easier.

Today I’m sharing some ah-ha moments I wish I’d found earlier. My doctor recently told me the secret to a strong-willed child is making the options appealing. I think she’s right:

  1. Connect your child’s wardrobe to something he/she loves. For awhile, giving E choices of what to wear was enough, but then she suddenly didn’t want to change out of whatever she was already wearing. When I’d try to force her to wear what I picked out, she’d kick and scream and I’d have to give her space for everyone’s safety, (have I mentioned she’s strong-willed?). This could go on for 10 to 20 minutes until I somehow got the day’s outfit on and was then late for wherever we were headed. Then recently it hit me! She’s obsessed with pumpkins, snowmen, and Santa. If I told her the outfits I put in front of her were pumpkin dresses (orange), snowmen clothes (white), or Santa pants (striped) she couldn’t wait to have them on. {Insert sigh of relief.}
  2. Make food fun and available. I’m always envious of friend’s kids who seem to eat whatever they’re handed. E will easily skip eating during the day and then want to nurse the entire night, (which as I shared in a previous post is no longer an option). I get so frustrated because food she loves one day she won’t touch the next. I feel required to keep a huge variety of items on hand and practically beg her to eat at regular intervals throughout the day. While I still haven’t fully solved this problem, these tricks make a difference:
    Thanks Lala!
    Thanks for the idea, Lala!
    • Cookie cutters! One evening at my parents’ house, my stepmom pulled out cookie cutters and cut E’s sandwich and apple slices into stars. This made food she wouldn’t touch before interesting enough to eat. We’ve been using this trick at home, too.
    • Create a story around the food. Just like with clothes, if mashed potatoes become snow and broccoli becomes trees, she can tolerate putting them in her mouth. Basically, the food has to be fun enough to make it worth sitting still in her chair to eat.
    • Keep toddler-friendly snacks in a cabinet or drawer your child can access. While I might not always want her to eat a granola bar or crackers, at least I can tell she’s hungry when she heads to her section of the pantry.
  3. Outsmart tantrums. I’m not going to try to tell you every tantrum can be outsmarted, but many of E’s can. Most of her fits are connected to being overly tired, hungry or bored. Here’s what helps us:
    • Honor your sleep routine. Although I can get away with altering E’s schedule for a day or two, if we completely miss a nap or wake her too early, we’re headed straight for meltdown city. It can be tempting when out doing errands to keep pushing nap time back, but the gift of a peaceful outing is worth the time constraints.
    • Always carry food or be ready to find some. Sometimes I forget how grumpy I become when my blood sugar is low. The same goes for E. When her mood shifts and I’m not sure why, food is always a good place to start. If I’m in a grocery store and don’t have a snack for her, I don’t hesitate to break into something in my cart, (string cheese?). This is something I always hated to see my mom do as a child, but now I totally get it. No one at the check stand cares as long as you pay for it.
    • Have a bag of tricks or be ready to find one. Toddlers don’t share the same affinity as we do for fine food, conversation, or people watching. While running errands or visiting restaurants, I always have something in my “busy bag.” Whether it’s a book or small toy, I can usually buy myself a little extra adult time with the distraction. If I’m not carrying my diaper bag at a store, I’ll let her hold merchandise of interest until we get to the check stand. So far, this has worked as long as I’m ready with a different distraction when it’s time to hand it over, (like food).

      Busy bag activities allow us to actually leave the house...
      Busy bag activities allow us to actually leave the house…
  4. Busy bags. Okay, I know the last bullet was about having a bag of tricks, but I think this one is so important I’m going to say it again: have something on hand to entertain your toddler when you’re out. I’m not just saying this because I sell busy bags, I’m saying it because we’re able to go to nice restaurants and actually enjoy our food with the help of activities like coloring books, stickers, small board books, etc. If you don’t want to buy one, make one. Collect items each time you’re out and about and save them for when you feel resistance brewing. Bonus points if you wrap the items ahead of time.

    Our focused time together is the best.
    Our focused time together is the most memorable.
  5. Don’t forget to play with your kid(s). This seems obvious but between multiple jobs, keeping a clean(ish) house, feeding my family, and remembering to take care of myself, it can be easy to spend time around E without actually playing with her. But, focused time together is the whole reason I’m willing to juggle part-time gigs instead of going back to work full-time. I make a daily effort to play even if it means an uncleaned mess or unfinished task. Not only are we all happier for it, but I also notice increased independence from her when she gets a healthy dose of focused attention.
  6. Give your child a little space. As I just mentioned, I don’t constantly entertain E. I give her space to play on her own because I feel it’s important in this busy world to learn to appreciate quiet time alone. On this same token, our TV isn’t always on. There is quiet in our house because I want her to be comfortable without constant stimulation. If I can hear her playing in her bedroom, I give her space to do so without me hovering, (even if I’m still actively listening). Likewise, when she gets up in the morning or from her nap, I let her get herself out of bed and come to me. I can hear her the whole time, but she’s learning independence through the process. I also let her explore at the park or library while I watch from a safe distance. She’s learning to occupy herself for longer periods of time, which is great for everyone.

    We're lucky to live within walking distance of beautiful trails, but it's still an effort to get outside in the winter.
    We’re lucky to live within walking distance of beautiful trails, but it’s still an effort to get outside in the winter.
  7. Go outside. This is one I suck at sometimes. It’s easy to get caught up in the to-do lists and not make it outside before dark (especially during the winter). But, I know kids need to be outside as much as possible. The other day as I was lamenting the challenge of getting her to sleep at night, an eavesdropping dad chimed in that I needed to go run her at the park. He’s right. During these dark, cold winter months, it’s too easy to skip going out, but kids need fresh air, natural light, and space to burn energy without walls.
  8. Be aware of your reactions. Children are mirrors. The other day when I was startled by a raccoon, E wouldn’t take her hands off her eyes for 10 whole minutes. She was petrified and I felt terrible. The same goes for how I react when she gets hurt. If I rush over and make a big deal, she cries a lot more than if I give her a moment and then come over and smile as I calmly check her out. They know when you’re worried and they worry too. Likewise, if they witness you being overly angry or upset about something, they’re likely to repeat the same emotion when they respond to the world around them.
  9. Listen to your own words. This one is huge. As a teacher, I can always pick out what parents must say at home from how a kid talks. This starts early. We purposely try not to use words we don’t want E to use, (although we’re still guilty of slipping up). For example, if you don’t want to be told you’re mean, don’t use the word mean. Instead, say something like “you’re not being very nice.” I’d much rather be told I’m not being very nice, than mean.
  10. Don’t fight over things that don’t matter. I’ll end with this one. It’s the biggest trick I’m coming to accept. I pick my battles with E by asking myself if what is bugging me is really an issue. Often, if it’s not hurting her or anyone else, I let it go. For example, yesterday afternoon, she took a nap with her tricycle in the bed. I could have fought her, but it was clean and there was no reason for her not to take a nap with her tricycle, even if my adult brain felt like telling her no. It wasn’t worth the fight.

Obviously, different tricks work for different kiddos, and even with the same kiddo, something that works one week may not the next. Still, I love sharing ideas because you never know what might help when you or your child is about to lose it. Have any favorite tricks that are working for your family right now? Please, please share! I’m certain we’ll always be learning around here…