Monday, March 29, 2010

Terrible twos are a year late

Ask any so-called child development expert and they will tell you that the twos are terrible. Ask any parent and they will swear that their 2-year-old was way easier than their 3-year-old.

I agree. And so does a mommy friend of mine who recently told me that 3-year-olds being easier than 2-year-olds was "the biggest lie" she'd ever been told.

Looking back the twos were not so terrible. The tantrums were actually amusing and nothing to take personally. My personal favorite was the one he threw because he wanted to watch me cut EVERY piece of fruit for his breakfast. Classic toddler schizophrenic behavior ... hysterical one minute, calm as a could be the next. Not only that, he shows classic signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder. If he doesn't get to do something his way, he goes back and does it again ... from the beginning. Seriously, this kid has stripped off a shirt, turned off lights and put a bowl of oatmeal back on the counter so he could go back and do it himself.

Though I pick my battles very carefully, there are still battles, or, as I like to call them, sneak attacks. It's the little things that become part of his routine, often unbeknownst to me until he's had a complete meltdown in some completely foreign and shrill language. For instance, our breakfast routine is now pretty well-scripted. One morning I made the mistake of putting his straw in the cup for him and laying out his toothpick next to his fruit cup

He handed the straw back to me and said, in a whiny, slightly panicked voice, "A person needs a straw."

Confused mommy says what?

"Just give it to a person," he explains and frantically searches my face for signs that I may possibly understand him.

What? (I really haven't had enough coffee to comprehend this.)

"Just put the straw in my hand," he squeals, on the verge on hysterics and hyperventilation.

Well, why didn't you say so in the first place, Napoleon?

After the straw segment of our dance comes the toothpick. (oh and did I mention that he likes the straw to be the same color as his cup? I've yet to find a pack of straws with just blue and green ones. anyone?)

I tip the toothpick box toward him and he very judiciously selects his fruit-stabbing implement (apparently there's a science to this). A few days ago, he decided that he wants to hold the box himself.

All this and you probably think I spend my day living in fear of and catering to a tyrannical tot. I don't, really. I've just found that an extra minute (and several deep breaths) here or there to let him pick out his own toothpick or put on his own sock or try to tighten his own laces gives him some confidence, me a lesson in patience and makes the house just a little quieter and less hysterical.

It seems that the main differences between the second and third year, at least in the eyes of parents on their first slog through toddlerhood, are weariness and expectations. The tantrums are getting old; the struggles for control become more contentious; the disobedience and downright stubbornness are maddening. The sweet, sweet memories of his baby years far behind us and with no experience of older, more settled children to rely on, I often feel adrift in the middle of stormy ocean, no land in sight. Some nights after he goes to bed, I read some blog posts and look at photos from he was under 18 months old. It helps me patiently face another day with him.

It's not all bad, though. My 3-year-old is becoming very independent. He can pick out his own clothes and dress himself, at least down to one sock. At least one item of clothing is on backwards, usually his underwear. He swears the pee pee hole should go in the back. Lately, he's been coming down with ALL of his clothes on backwards and squealing insistently that, "No, they on RIGHT WAY." He then tops off the outfit with his Spiderman rain boots no matter the weather and he's set for the day (hopefully, he'll get some fashion sense before he goes to preschool in the fall). It provides much needed comic relief. He can entertain himself for long periods, he's eager to help if you give him some direction and he loves to help his sister get in and out of her car seat buckle (when he's not pushing her around).

But my expectations keep me believing that, by now, my days shouldn't feel like my favorite line from the movie "Groundhog Day":

"Well, what if there is no tomorrow? There wasn't one today."

Every day, we have the same conversations about the pee pee hole going in the front, not the back, saying please, saying thank you, not hitting or pushing sister, putting poopy in the potty, keeping toys out of the kitchen, wiping your nose and face with a napkin and not your sleeve, and on and on and on. There are ever-so-slight shifts in behavior and attitude that often go unnoticed, until one day it hits me that, for instance, he now says thanks every time someone gives him something or does something for him.

This evening at dinner, he said something that I'm sure he intended one way, but was completely appropos to the whole 3-year-old experience thus far.

"I good at pushing buttons with you, mommy."

Yes, kid, whatever you think you mean, you are correct in ways you can't even comprehend yet!

(and I still have no clue what he was talking about)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Countdown to number three

The difference in priorities with the addition of each child is evident in the ways in which we've prepared for them. This time around I hardly feel like our preparations have anything to do with the actual child that will be joining our family in mid April or sooner (hopefully).

With the first born, obviously, everything is new. You have no idea what you'll actually need versus what you have stocked up when the baby arrives. For Danny, we prepared ourselves well for child birth, stockpiled plenty of clothing, blankets and other baby gear and tried to wrap our heads around caring for a newborn. The culture shock was nothing short of, well, shocking. It took me about three months to adjust to the new normal in our house.

With Fiona, our main preparations seemed to be getting Danny into a big boy bed, finding some pink clothes, learning about and stocking up on cloth diapers and preparing for our first homebirth. When Fiona arrived, she was a much calmer baby with a much cooler, more collected set of parents. The transition was smoother than I had imagined, as evident by my reaction to my first day alone with the kids. In short, I was completely unfazed by my crying newborn in the grocery store who refused to be carried in anything but my arms.

With this baby, who my husband just calls "Carl" (even though we don't know the sex), our main preparations have centered on teaching our older two some very valuable self-help skills.

Danny has been buckling the top half of his car seat buckle while I come behind to check it and snap in the bottom. This weekend, Jim rearranged the car seats in our van and added the baby's seat. Now Fiona can climb into her own car seat and we're teaching Danny how to buckle her seat belt. Judging by how quickly she catches on, though, she may figure it out before he has a chance to do it for her. Today she reached her little arms back to find the shoulder straps.

Since January, I've been working with Danny on dressing himself. He now gets himself out of bed in the morning, goes potty and can dress himself down to the socks while I verbally coach and check on him from the bottom of the stairs. Whew, just in time ... I get ridiculously winded going up and down the stairs these days. Some mornings, I have to chuckle, though, as I find myself doing something my mother used to do. When she didn't get an answer after calling up the stairs for us, she'd bang on the wall. Even Fiona "helps" me get her dressed. She puts her arms out to find the arm holes and climbs into a chair when I say it's time to get shoes on.

We're really lucky that she and her brother have such independent spirits. Once they learn to do something, it seems that they don't want to accept help. Some days that's a liability as each step in a routine can take a few minutes longer as they struggle to put their own socks on or climb into their own car seat. In the long run, though, it's a huge asset for us and for their self-esteem.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Keep your hands to yourself? No problem.

Lately, our son has been hitting and pushing his sister quite a bit. He's getting smart about it, too, and does it only when I'm not looking. I hear her cry and come in to find her on the floor and him smiling, saying, "I got her." (She's going to kick his little butt one day soon.)
Trying to have a conversation with him in the moments after such an incident is difficult. The question "Why?" is met with blank stares and then his description of what he did, not why he did it. He often goes straight to his time out chair, which is good and bad. On one hand, he knows he's done something wrong. But sometimes I suspect that he just does what he wants and picks his punishment. Time out is just not painful enough for him. 

My son has interesting thoughts these days, though, when I can coax them out of him. This afternoon before nap time, I was doing puzzles with him and remembered what my sister had told me about engaging boys in an activity and then trying to talk to them. It somehow opens a channel within them according to a child psychologist whose name escapes me right this minute. I've seen it work with him. However, I often shun this particular strategy in favor of a my-way-or-the-highway approach that is usually born out of extreme frustration with a little boy who seems to have the most stunning case of mother deafness ever.

Back to nap time: I began to talk with him about pushing his sister.

He replied, "Keep my hands to myself."

"Yes," I replied. "Kids won't want to play with you if you push or hit them."

He puts his arms out to both sides as if to push kids away. "Move out of my way," he says, nodding his head. I take this as his explanation of why he hits or pushes.

So I tell him that he can say "Excuse me, I need to get by" when he needs someone to move. And then if the person doesn't move, I tell him, he should go ask an adult for help instead of pushing or hitting. (I really hope that I'm not encouraging my son to be a tattle.)

"Keep your hands to yourself," I repeated.

"My arms are attached," he says solemnly, crossing his arms and patting his shoulders.

Um, I guess that would make it easy to keep your hands to yourself, now wouldn't it?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Reading just happens ... really.

Even when you don't have cable, you still wind up watching mindless crap, we've found. We've also discovered that there's never anything good on the tele on Monday nights. When that happens, we wind up reading our daily Wall Street Journal, chatting and taking in bits and pieces of a home show on one of the network's HGTV substitutes called Live Well HD.

A segment this evening was about making a reading area for children. The host covered different types of shelving, lighting and other ambiance-enhancing items. She suggests having comfy pillows, reading mats and small LED lights (which don't emit any heat) - mostly from IKEA, of course. She also imparted the importance of having a place in your home where parents and children can read together.

Then she described how her son loves Godzilla and how they read books about Godzilla together and how they talk about the story afterward. To which my husband said, "Yeah, and then he stomps all over the pillows and hits his sister with them, right?" She went on to talk about how she and her son "made" their own book and hung it on a bulletin board in his reading corner.
After listening to this, I'm convinced this woman is lying about having children or is on Prozac or her kids are on some sort of drug.

Let me first say this: There is no such thing as confining one activity, like reading, to an "area" when you have children. They are like a gas ... they take up all available space. Try as I may to make distinct play areas for the children, their toys wind up in the kitchen, the bathroom, the hallway, my bathtub, their bathtub, beneath my bed, in the hampers, in the sink, under the dining room table ... well, you get the idea. Everywhere I look on my evening cleanup jaunt, there's a toy mingling with the dust bunnies. Some nights, to avoid bending over one more time, I just leave them to enjoy each other's company on the floor.

Anyhow, here's what happens when I read my son a book about his favorite topic: cars. He shouts, "Gotta get my cars" then runs them up and down my legs and arms and in my hair and throughout the roads in the book, making vroom-vroom noises the whole time. Oddly enough, despite the seemingly distracted behavior, he can later retell the story.

We do have a few shelves with books within the kids reach. Here's what happens: Every morning, Godzilla-ette clears books from the shelf in Danny's room, then moves on to the shelves in her bedroom and the living room. She does bring me books and lets me read to her, though, unlike her brother at that age who was more interested in, well, anything else. And as for making his own book? His attention span for anything remotely crafty is maybe 2 minutes. Then his sister would get a hold of his craft and try to eat it.

We have a tent with pillows and a blanket in it for the kids to chill out in. Here's what happens: They rough house in the tent, hit each other with pillows and roll around. Eventually one hurts the other, everyone's in tears and I have a headache.

As for having a place for children and parents to read together, well, reading happens everywhere in our house from the kitchen table over breakfast and lunch to the bathroom on the potty and in the tub to the bedroom to the living room and even sometimes while he's watching television (yes, my kid watches television and still managed to develop an interest in books. imagine that.).

Seems to me that the mantra to read, read, read to your children as early as possible is rather overbearing. If you do have a kid who is interested in books early on, great. If not, no big deal. That interest will develop whether or not you reserve an "area" for them to engage in that activity or incorporate reading into your routines. If my kid is more interested in eating the book or flipping the pages, forcing the activity on them will likely turn them off to reading, wouldn't you think? This incessant read, read, read mantra seems to be born of a deep-seated mistrust in the innate ability and desire of children to learn with little prompting from adults.

Here's the dirty little secret: You and what you are doing is the most interesting thing in the world to your kids. (Seriously, it's why they stalk me when I'm doing laundry or emptying the dishwasher or making dinner or reorganizing a cabinet. And later, when I could reasonably expect some help with these things, they will, of course, be completely uninterested.) If they see you reading, then they'll want to read, too. No special area complete with IKEA furniture is required, really.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Mommy superpowers

You know that arcade game of whack-a-mole? Some days that's what life feels like around here.

The one-year-old has just figured out the child-safety lock on the cabinet under the sink. Meanwhile, the 3-year-old has put his Spiderman rain boots on and let himself out into the partially fenced back yard to find his "racing cars."

The one-year-old is about to climb on the table and grab a knife while the the 3-year-old is starting the launch sequence for meltdown over a dropped fork.

The one-year-old has just pooped while the 3-year-old is in full-on poop posture and resisting efforts to get him to the potty.

The one-year-old is bumbling around on a slide platform 5 feet off the ground while the 3-year-old is trying to mount the swing on his own, alternately refusing and begging for help.

Some days I hardly know which child to save from himself. And with a third one on the way in about month, I'm starting to panic. What I really need is a set of superpowers beyond the ones I already possess. I have the super hearing which allows me to wake from a dead sleep when one child lets out a lone cry in the night and drifts peacefully back to sleep (meanwhile, I'm wide awake for the next 30 minutes). I can function on six hours of broken sleep and very little food (thanks to B vitamins, caffeine and Luna bars), lift both children if I need to, tell exactly when my son has to poop, get more done in three child-free hours than most people can do all day and still manage to get dinner on the table by 5 every single night.

But my wish list begins with having the arms reach of Mrs. Incredible, the Stretch Armstrong of our day. That alone would save me the trouble of deciding which kid to stop in his tracks.

In my mommy tool belt, I need a remote control with a mute button for each child, fast forward button for the witching hour and a rewind button for do overs (like tantrum prevention, spilled milk and snacks, and when mommy says a bad word that then comes tumbling out of the 3-year-olds mouth). A magic enema wand would be just plain fantastic -- to ensure that all the poop comes out in one sitting so we're not held daily hostage by an exceptionally stubborn little pooper.

And I really want my husband's daddy super power: the ability to honestly say that, no, he didn't hear the children screaming in perfect harmony at 2 a.m.

Monday, March 08, 2010

From the WTH? file

Yesterday my husband found Danny in the bathroom splashing in the toilet and screaming.


He was trying to turn the light on. Let me explain.

Jim installed a motion sensor switch in the downstair's and children's bathrooms. Unfortunately, Danny is too short to trip the downstair's bathroom sensor. So ...  he sometimes bangs on the wall or stands on his stool and waves his arms to trip the sensor.

Sunday he decided that splashing in the toilet would be a good way to turn the light on.


Sunday, March 07, 2010

A place of her own

Babies don't know anything; at least that's according to the new eBay print ads. And it's a good thing they don't.

Poor Fiona is over a year old and we finally got around to decorating her bedroom so it looks more like a kid's room than a baby flophouse. And judging by her initial nonplussed reaction to the room, I don't think she minded her former digs as much as we felt a little guilty for stuffing her crib in a room that was once the guest room and my sewing/craft space. Such is the plight of the second-born child. The third will fair worse, I fear. We have no more bedrooms and this next one will sleep in our room for a most of its first year.  (I really hate referring to this baby as "it," but the English language leaves me no choice. Sigh.) Actually,the baby will likely sleep nestled next to my chest for it's first few months. Such is the nature of my babies and my tolerance for nursing in the upright position after midnight. Then we'll have to put the baby in with Fiona. Age difference is going to be a bigger factor than gender here. I can't see a 4-year-old Danny sharing a room with a 1 year old. And this baby, of course, will have no idea that it has had no room of it's own because, as eBay has so rightly points out, babies don't know anything.

Last year, when Fiona was a few weeks old, I purchased several rolls of wallpaper border at a Habitat Reuse Center. It was lavender and light green with a bug and leaf motif - the perfect decor for a mommy with an aversion to all things pink and princessy. As it turns out, the decor is perfect for her - a little girl who is as far from pink and frilly as it gets. She grunts and growls, climbs and tumbles, and carries dolls around by their ankles when she's not shunning them for balls and cars. If she's anything like her mother, she'll probably be a tomboy until she's at least 13 and then struggle to find a feminine identity with which she's comfortable. I remember very clearly just when the guys began to regard me a little differently. After church one day, the gang all met to hash out a game of cops and robbers. They told me I could be a robber because I had black stuff on my eyes. It was mascara. Heels and makeup in the morning, cops and robbers in the afternoon. But I digress ... 

Jim spent much of last week painting white the dresser and bookshelf from his own childhood bedroom. He also repainted a small blanket chest that we purchased months ago at the Reuse Center. It's now white with a green lid and lavender border and handles. Then Saturday night and this morning he painted and applied the wallpaper border. Light green on the top half, border in the middle, lavender below. It looks fantastic. We're not sure exactly what Fiona thinks. Her reaction was muted. But she did spend quite a bit of time in there this afternoon climbing up and down from the double bed that is still in there. And this evening she hung out with me looking at books for about 15 minutes before bed. Now she has a place of her own to play ... for the next six to nine months, anyway.

As I rocked her to sleep this evening, the new decor was still visible in the room lit slightly by the streetlights. It actually had a very calming effect. Wonder if she would have slept through the night sooner had it been this way sooner? Nah! (that's just what I tell myself to ward off the guilt!)

Here are some photos of her new room:

March 2010

Monday, March 01, 2010

And it's only Monday ... [deep breath]

Days that start with tantrums and end in a big, poopy mess are never good. And it's worse when it's a Monday.

Monday used to be the best day of the week for us. I'm usually well-rested from the weekend. Our routine is pretty low key and includes the library for story time, a stop outside the fire department to gawk at the trucks, trash truck stalking and sometimes a little outside time before lunch. After today, I'm going to have to rethink our routine. The kids had a fun morning playing together before we left and I have the pictures to prove it. I answered some emails and made and took some phone calls, including one from my mother-in-law who Danny accidentally dialed on my cell phone. I heard him chattering away on the coach about the wall being orange but thought nothing of it until the phone rang and it was MIL calling back. But it all went downhill from there.

Several friends have told me today that they banned the library until their kids were older. From now on, I'm just going to just order my books from the online catalog and pick them up WITHOUT the children. We had a good run before Fiona got too mobile and Danny lost interest in story time, except for the bubbles and the hand stamp at the end, of course

Nowadays, Danny zeroes in on any little boy who matches his energy level and proceeds to cause a ruckus. Today was no different. First he takes off his shoes and jacket, dumps them on the floor, runs off for the children's section. Then he ran around with Jack, his new-found partner in crime, during story time to go "hide." At least his mother's exasperation level matched mine as I watched her manage a 7-month-old baby and then literally catch Jack by his shirt tails. After story time, he bolts for the children's section again to do puzzles. I inform him of my plan to look for and check out the books while he finishes his puzzle (because keeping mentally unstable 3 year olds abreast of the plans is supposed to help prevent meltdowns, right? RIGHT???) Meanwhile, I'm trying to keep Fiona from single-handedly clearing every book from the shelves. (On the bright side, I steer her toward the board books and she brings me some for the bag.)  Books checked out, I return for the barefooted, jacketless child finishing up his puzzle. He comes willingly. So far, so good.

Then he flips out because he now suddenly wants to check out the books. He runs from me. I try to catch him and lead him out, still barefooted and jacketless because there seems to be no way for me to wrestle jacket and shoes on a tantruming 3 year old while managing Fiona and a 15 pound bag of books. He then runs in the other direction, screaming. I hoist him up (eight months pregnant here, by the way) around the waist while still holding Fiona and the bag of books. He slides down so that my arm is now around his neck (think unintentional choke hold ... they should have Razzies for worst mother of the year, don't you think?). Outside, I manage to put him down, grab his hand and get him to the van where I inform him that Dennis, his beloved stuffed monkey, is going to be very disappointed in his behavior and will be taking an extended vacation in mommy's closet upon our return home.

As for the poopy mess, I'll spare you the stinky details and just say it involved poop on multiple surfaces and body parts and the disposing of his favorite pair of pants. The rest of his "guys" (the family of stuffed animals that I'm pretty sure he wishes were his real family instead of us right now) are now vacationing with Dennis in mommy's closet. Luckily, I was not involved in the clean up of this one which took place in our bathtub. Unfortunately, I'm now rethinking that bath I had planned for myself (shudder) ... which I really could have used after essentially carrying about 75 pounds (yes, I'm counting the one in my belly, too) of children and books today.

Needless to say, the library is off limits for a while. Maybe we'll return in the fall when Danny is at preschool.