Saturday, January 17, 2015

Time for Bed!

snug as a bug in mommy's bed last summer

A good friend asked me, not long after Daniel and Lily came home, "What was my favorite part of being a mother?"

"Bedtime," I answered quickly.

My friend (who doesn't have kids yet) was kind of horrified. I've told this story to many parents, though, and they all nod their heads in agreement.

Bedtime is the best time of the day. Or, to be specific, the best moment is right AFTER they have all fallen asleep, and the house has finally gone quiet, and their sweet little faces nestled in their blankets makes you forget all the drama and turmoil and ridiculousness that might have just happened, or the fact that they have been driving you crazy all day and you are so grateful they are finally, finally, quiet and peaceful. That moment is very sweet.

Because then you know, you've done it. You have kept these precious children alive and relatively happy and hopefully relatively healthy for one more day. They are sleeping, and hopefully they will remain blissfully asleep for many more hours while you get on with doing all the things you need to do or like to do when your children aren't underfoot.

Like the dishes.

Or watching grown up TV.

Or reading.

Or sleeping.

Or pretty much anything that requires quiet, privacy, concentration, or all three of those things. Yes, that is what I'm thinking about too. *

A successful bedtime is cause for celebration. I'll never forget the first night we spent with our children in our own home. Jet lag helped us get everyone to sleep very early and very quickly.  Andrew and I cracked up beers and toasted each other. Hooray! We did it! And then we fell asleep because, jet lag.

Which is why, when you have a child who is bad sleeper, life can get so very very hard so very very quickly.

You might get them to go to sleep, but then you wait, anxiously. Will they sleep all night? Will they wake up screaming? Will we be able to get them back to sleep quickly? How many times will they wake? Do I dare try to (watch a movie, pay bills, try to reconnect with a friend or email or husband?) or should we just go to sleep right now because we are going to be woken up 5 times before dawn?

Bedtime becomes a horrible little game of Russian roulette. In our case, this nasty sleepless game lasted about 2 years. Or maybe 18 months. Or maybe longer... honestly it's kind of all a blur. It was a long time, and it was very unpleasant for everyone, that's all I know for sure.

In our case, Lily started having night terrors when she was about 2 1/2 years old. Around the same time, NOT coincidentally, that she started potty training and she moved into her own room, and also into a toddler bed. (The details of this horror show can be read here, here, here, and here.) We made some pretty bad parenting decisions. Also not coincidentally, because we were not getting any sleep and also it was 2AM. Nothing good happens after 2AM, I think that we can all agree on that.

So from around Fall of 2012 until about Fall of 2014, Lily had big sleep struggles. For a long time she slept in our bed. For a long time she needed one of us to rock with her or sit with her until she fell asleep. For a long time bedtime was a 1-2 hour slog. The worst was when you'd get a full night sleep and wake up and think, "Wow, I feel GREAT!"  And then the next night's 3AM (4AM, 5AM) sleep interruptions feel SO MUCH WORSE.

Eventually, though, after weeks and weeks of hard work, and the miracle of her simply getting older, she learned to fall asleep on her own, and for the most part, sleep on her own all night. (Shh! Don't jinx it!)

In fact, the other morning after she'd accidentally wet the bed (a pretty common and normal occurrence) I asked her to come sleep in my bed, as I didn't feel like getting up and changing her wet sheets. And here is this child, who slept in my bed for TWO YEARS yelling at me,

"I want to sleep in my own bed! I don't want to sleep with you!"

So now I'm arguing with her about how she needs to sleep in my bed... oh, the irony.

Here is what I've learned from parenting a child with some sleep challenges:

1. The most important thing is that everyone sleeps.

2. The most important thing is that everyone sleeps. In bed together, on the floor, on their own, IT DOESN'T MATTER. Sleep "training" is for selling books. Do whatever makes sense for your family as long as everyone is sleeping healthily.

3. Do not make any decisions at 2AM. They will be poor ones.

* My mom reads my blog. Hi Mom!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

My sincere apologies...

Dear Readers,

It was brought to my attention that I have an email listed on this blog... One that I've neglected to check for an embarrassing long time.
So if you sent me a message in the past (gulp) 18 months, I'm so sorry!

Reading through them all now, and if a response still seems necessary or relevant, I'll reply.

Thank you!


Friday, January 9, 2015

3 Things That Surprised Me About Being a Mom

Everyone has crazy, romantic notions of what being a parent will be like until they actually become one. Since I became a mom after a 4 year emotional and physical marathon, I had plenty of time to fantasize inaccurately.  Here are the top three things I got REALLY WRONG....

1. It's Expensive. I mean, really EXPENSIVE.

Before Daniel and Lily came home, I did some preliminary calculations of what becoming parents would mean to our budget. I looked up the price of diapers and formula. I briefly considered what day care might cost. I knew having kids was expensive and shuddered at what college might cost.. but hey, college is a long way off and we'll join Costco and it'll be fine!

Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha.


First of all, Costco is awesome, but I've never walked out of there having "saved" any money.  I do get a good bicep workout from pushing an overloaded cart up and down the aisles though...

Secondly, diapers and formula are the tip of the iceberg of parental expenses. Soon you are buying underwear and socks and school uniforms and summer clothes and winter gear and shoes. Oh, dear God the shoes! I think I've gotten on top of their wardrobes and then Daniel grows out of or blows out the knees of his pants (or both), and Lily's shoes don't fit her and our "emergency" trip to the shoe store is costing me $100. I still haven't gotten over the sticker shock for a pair of boots we bought Daniel 2 years ago.

And then there are the activities and classes and lessons and class trips and water bottles and school supplies and end of year gifts for teachers and the sports equipment and the Frozen merchandise. Oh, the merchandise.

But the Frozen on Ice tickets?... Worth It.
And then there are the groceries. The special organic kind of yogurt that is the only one they will eat and the $5 a jar salsa that Daniel finishes off in a day.  And 4 different flavors of jam because each of us likes a different flavor of jam.  And the two different kinds of organic almond milk. And the bread, dear Lord the loaves of bread we go through!  Formula was a bargain compared to what we consume now.

And then there is keeping healthy - the hair supplies and the only kind of lotion that works on their skin which happens to be $10 a jar, even at Costco. The co-pays. The endless need for new toothbrushes. How does a jar of toothpaste only last a week? Last month the dentist was really pushing them to use mouthwash (There is a Frozen brand!)... and all I could think was, 'Great, ANOTHER expensive item to buy at Walgreens.' So now we have two new bottles of mouthwash, which they are going through at an alarming pace.

Anyway, what can I do- they have to brush their teeth. But if I could, I would gently tap my 2010 self and say, 'I know you are all kinds of excited about becoming a mom and all, but you might want to really start a sensible savings plan and give up ever buying new shoes for yourself because you, my dear self, are going to be BROKE.'*

2. It's not like teaching. Or rather, I'm a different mom than I am a teacher.

I've been a teacher for many more years than I've been a mom. So I thought I had the whole dealing with kids and all their annoying wonderful qualities down pat. I was so wrong about that.  Being a teacher is so different than being a mom. Or maybe, because I'm a teacher, I'm a different kind of mom? Or maybe, I have a finite amount of patience and tolerance for mess and they are pretty much used up at work?

All I know is, in the classroom I'm creative and patient and I love a good messy project! At home I'm strict and intolerant of any kind of mess and my patience is pretty thin.

Messy kids at school? No problem! Messy kids at home? I FREAK OUT.
I don't know why this is. I thought, before I became a mom, that I would LOVE to spend my days coloring and making things out of clay and empty boxes. Now I hide all our art supplies. I wouldn't even have any art supplies at all, but they keep coming home with homework assignments that require markers or glue. Damn teachers.

It may be that I'm terrified of mess because I have a daughter who thinks the whole house is her canvass, and who has a knack for finding the one and only permanent marker we own 10 seconds after I've hidden it. (HOW, how does she do that!?) After scrubbing marker off my couch and digging play dough out of my rug art projects are just so unappealing.  Now she does homework under my watchful eye, and then quick! as soon as she is done the markers go back on the high shelf.

Homework: a special kind of torture.
Reading with your (hates to read, reads poorly) child at home: another special kind of torture.

At work I have enormous reserves of patience for kids' learning curves. I've taught hundreds of kids to read -some with pretty significant learning challenges. When Daniel was struggling through his Kindergarten readers I would internally battle not to scream at him. "THE, the word is THE! It's on EVERY PAGE."

I lost that battle with myself more than once. Reading together was definitely not the idyllic scene I imagined pre-motherhood.  I'm so grateful that my now third grader does his homework all by himself in his room where I can't cringe over his handwriting or spelling errors. I'm pretty sure he is happy about that too.

3. It's bittersweet. 

Before I became a mom I imagine that life would be like a road with lovely sign posts marking the milestones... A Facebook movie of parenthood, if you will. That we would celebrate and cherish each wonderful "first" for our children and be constantly moving forward.

And we do: we've got the Facebook movie of first lost tooth and first days of school and first dance recitals.

But every milestone, for me at least, is tinged with sadness. The first time he loses a tooth is also the last time he will have all his baby teeth. It's one more step away from being my little boy. Away from me.

We are so happy to have Lily sleeping in her own bed (Shhh! Don't tell anyone! Don't jinx it!) But sometimes I miss having her warm little body snuggling next to me. When I rock her at night I often wonder, is this the last time I'll rock my baby to sleep? My baby who is starting Kindergarten next Fall and who barely fits on my lap.

Look at that sweet little face under that huge hat. 
Sigh. Andrew thinks I'm crazy. But every time I turn around my children seem to be three feet taller. There always seems to be both too much time ("Mom, can I play on the iPad? I'm BORED. Mom! I wet the bed! Mom! Mom! Mom!")... and never enough.

Which I why I'm still typing away in this little space- to force myself to record our days, both good and bad. To give me an excuse to look back at their sweet little faces, and to remember that I never did know what the future holds, and certainly don't now...

* I'm well aware than in the context of the real world (and certainly in the context of our Ethiopian-American family) we are hardly broke. We are lucky to live a very comfortable life. Or so my Visa statements inform me.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

5 Things I'm doing okay as a mom...

 It seems like I've been a little down on my mommy- skills lately (Christmas pity party, check)... So I thought I would force myself to ponder what is going well in our house these days... Except I won't mention (yet) that there might be the slightest, slimmest possibility that our "bad sleeper" is actually sleeping most nights. Shhh! Don't tell anyone! Don't jinx it!

Okay, here we go; 5 Things I'm Doing Okay As a Mom:

1. I always buy plain white socks for the kids. Because who has time to match socks? NOT ME.

Queen Elsa of Spaghettiville

2. They eat vegetables and fruits! Mostly.
    This one started out as dumb luck on our part because my kids' innate food preferences were nurtured in an Ethiopian womb. Their First mom most likely ate only spicy lentils, vegetables and bread. Nary a processed food or chocolate bar in sight. Nature Vs. Nurture: tied again.
 (Daniel's preference for Doritos, and Lily's for dark chocolate is all my doing.)
    That being said, I do make a very conscious effort to buy, cook and encourage them to eat a good variety of healthy foods, and they both have a fairly good diet right now. Lily has finally made it to the end of her "running away from the dinner table in tears every night" phase. (She only does that 2-3 times a week now.) Daniel will eat Caesar salad with gusto.  He puts salsa on everything.  I've also managed to not pass on to them my own craving for something sweet after every meal. (I eat dessert after they've gone to bed. Bedtime is cause for celebration!)

We especially like to read shirtless.

3. They can both read. And LIKE reading.
   We have books all over our house, and we read together every day. Daniel has all the ridiculous super hero, Harry Potter related, comic strip, joke books- usually all spread out on the floor next to his bed, where he tossed them after his nightly reading session. Lily's got Doc, Barbie and all the Frozen characters cozied up next to her. I sometimes find her sleeping on top of a pile of books. One of our most effective incentives for getting through the bedtime -teeth brushing- pajama routine is threatening NOT to read to them.

Look at those curls!

4.  Lily's hair looks awesome.
   Again, nature vs. nurture: tied again. Lily has beautiful, strong, thick, glossy hair. It is a big part of our weekly routine to keep it that way! My braiding skills are pretty fair now, and Lily has chosen her favorite hair styles. She still hates washing it, but she's pretty patient with the combing and braiding.  Her hair, once teeny puffs of curls on her little head, now stretches down her back.

First time. No, seriously. 

5. We encourage their independence. This is a tricky one... BUT, despite our fears and our worries for them, we do let them play outside on their own. We do let them go around the corner on their scooters (so long as they stay together). We do encourage them to do things for themselves and for each other instead of always asking for help.  Sometimes it means waiting impatiently while the shoes are put on and praying as they carry armloads of dishes off the table, but so far we think their independence is a good match for their strong wills and self esteem. And G-d damn it one of these days Lily is really going to be able to put her own seat belt on!

Monday, January 5, 2015


Grandparents around the world love to look at their grandchildren's photos!

It can be so easy to get all bungled up with the Holiday thing, can't it? We've gotten ourselves pretty well stressed out, anxious and worked up over what is supposed to be a simple, precious holiday. I did more yelling and freaking out over nothing than I can admit last month.

And a week later most of the presents are broken/used up/tired out or haven't even been taken out of the box and enjoyed (hello, ice skates!) All in all, despite my best efforts, Christmas is just way too much drama.

And, of course, the best Christmas present of the year arrived on an ordinary Monday morning... An email with 10 beautiful pictures of our Ethiopian family. In the email were the precious, prayed for words, "They are all well and healthy." In the photos were many smiling faces, each echoing our children's faces... there is Daniel's smile, there is Lily's nose and oh, look how tall your brother got!

In the batch of photos were two new faces to us- grandparents! God bless anyone who lives to be a grandfather in Ethiopia! It is truly a feat. God willing, these beautiful people will still be around when we next travel to visit Africa.  

The best Christmas present we ever got was also delivered on an ordinary afternoon- the phone call telling us that we would be parents to Daniel and Lily: in one simple, incredible, life-changing voicemail I got after a visit to the dentist in December, 2010.

Well, I guess it makes sense, doesn't it... The story goes of a magical, miraculous baby born in a stable in a tiny town 2,000 years ago... The best presents arrive with out fanfare, without glitter or Elves or big bows.

After all, the singing angels and shining star only arrived afterwards...

Ethiopian Christmas is celebrated this year on January 7th.
Melkam Genna, መልካም  ገንና  * everyone.

* How cool is it that I can type in Amharic! (Google, you are amazing.)

Friday, January 2, 2015

Dear Me: Some Christmas Instructions...

Dear Me:

Here are some things you will want to remember in about 11 months. Every year you THINK you will remember the little tricks and timing to make Christmas go smoothly, but you DON'T. 12 months is a lot of time, anything can happen to mess up your memory. Like parenting two young children.

So here you go: your guide to surviving  enjoying the Holiday Season.

1. Order 75 Holiday cards. You will balk at the cost, but you will feel better having extra than running out like you did this year. (Sorry friends.)

2. Don't carry around the pack of 75 cards around in your work bag for 2 weeks (losing a few cards to coffee spillage and wear and tear). Pick one day to address and mail them,  and then just. do. it.

3. You already have Christmas outfits for the kids! (Hooray consignment shop post-holiday sales!) Congratulations! They probably won't fit come next Fall. Around October, check and then panic shop. And remember- it really doesn't matter. On Christmas Eve they will change into their Halloween costumes as soon as they can anyway. Nothing is more festive than your daughter in a shredded Elsa costume and Daniel as Lord Voldemort.
** Don't forget to take photos of your kids looking cute in their festive clothing before they change.

4. This year you are really, truly forgoing the "surprise" holiday gift route because your children cannot handle it. Have them pick out their own Amazon wish lists (Then send the link out to all their relatives), and forget the wrapping paper too. Who needs the mess and waste!? Stick bows on the boxes and pray for a less anxious Christmas morning.

5. Don't put the tree up til the week of Christmas. You will hate it so much less on 12/26. You might actually still be enjoying it on New Year's.

6. One ornament at least will break. Don't sweat it. That's what super glue and the internet is for.

7. Have a steady supply of booze and wine on hand. It just helps.

8. Don't bring the chocolates home from work. It's not worth the diet you will need to go on in January.

9. Make a large batch one kind of very simple cookie and have the kids help you bag them and label them. Get all the teacher gifts in November so you don't have to go to Target in December.

10. Save the "good" Christmas cookies for family and close friends. DO NOT make extra. See #8.

11.  Eat a lot of salad and soup in December. See # 8.

12. Don't stress out so much. It's just a holiday. The best part of Christmas this year for Lily was getting to eat French fries for dinner, and for Daniel it was your lax attitude towards Minecraft. Low exception = happy holidays.

Merry Christmas!