on sleep–or the lack thereof

Today marks five weeks since we returned from our lovely little cottage trip.  It was during that fateful trip that Ender stopped sleeping.  Prior to the trip, he had taken two predictable naps per day and slept from 7 pm to at least 4 am.  During the trip, he began going down hard—crying when we’d start heading for his pack ‘n’ play, taking longer than usual to fall asleep, waking once or twice in the first hour after he went down at night.  Then he started waking earlier in the morning, at three or even two instead of four or five am.  Once we got home, he progressed to waking every 20 minutes from 7-9 pm, waking twice in the middle of the night, and needing to be held while he slept restlessly from 2 am on.  At naptime, he might sleep for an hour if I were exceedingly lucky; he also might fuss and scream and refuse to nap for eight hours at a time (like today).

Our doc increased his dose of Pepcid, which enabled him to fall asleep at night and eliminated our annoying multitude of early wakings—joy!  But the remainder of the night (and day) continued to worsen.  She tried moving his medicine to nighttime, splitting his dose between morning and night, adding Tylenol or gas drops at bedtime—all to no avail.  She tried Maalox at bedtime (kept him sleeping until at least midnight, but he was worse than ever thereafter) and added Prevacid (no change yet).  We’ve also seen another of the peds twice; both times she claimed he must be teething or hungry.  Tylenol doesn’t seem to have much effect on his sleep, and he hasn’t popped any teeth through in this five-week span.  He eats a hearty dinner, and I increased the amount of oatmeal he gets in his nighttime bottle.  (We have to add oatmeal to his formula or it comes right back up.)  Besides, you can’t tell me that he is hungry two hours after that heavy bottle.

Last weekend, poor Ender contracted a bad case of the runs.  He was having ten dirty diapers a day.  We were told to take him off his formula and instead give him Pedialyte mixed with rice cereal and baby bananas.  His meals were to consist of only the BRAT Diet foods (if you have kids, you know this—Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, and Toast).  Miraculously, our raw-bottomed baby started sleeping again.  He had diarrhea for three-and-a-half days, and for four nights he slept like the proverbial baby that so few of us have in reality.  I was thrilled!

After a full day of fewer yucky diapers, I re-started the little guy’s formula on Tuesday.  Tuesday night, he started crying out in his sleep within an hour of going down.  By midnight he was in our room, alternating between being held and dozing in the pack ‘n’ play; by 3 am I had to move downstairs to the couch so he didn’t wake the rest of the family with his perpetual fussing.  Wednesday night was a repeat of Tuesday.  Today he took a two-hour morning nap and then screamed whenever I tried to put him down in the afternoon, preferring instead to motor around the house and fuss.  The night has begun with two interventions needed in the first two hours of his sleep.  This does not bode well.

The doc informs me that it’s highly unlikely that he’s developed an intolerance for his formula, since he’s been on Nutramigen since six weeks of age.  But I’m running out of ideas, and so are they.  I’ve gotten the distinct impression that they are tired of my complaining: “Sometimes babies go through bad sleep phases–they get teeth or hit a growth spurt.”  This is my third kid.  There’s bad sleep—waking up three or four times a night for a pat on the back over the course of a week—and there’s this—crying out in your sleep almost hourly, unable to sleep more than half the night without being held and occasionally jiggled.  We’re tired.  I don’t think this is normal.  But I’m at a complete loss as to what to do.  HELP!  Are any of you feeling insightful?

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we all need somebody to lean on

Kids sharing an apple

Even apples are better when shared.

Last weekend, we had a little fair in town.  Since we’ve read a few books about people going to the fair (and because ‘Love has a weakness for elephant ears), we took the kids.  We strolled around, people-watching.  After we’d walked through the whole thing, Peatie asked, “Daddy, can I go down that big slide?”  We explained that it cost money to do anything at the fair, but we agreed that we would buy him tickets to the slide as long as he understood that once he handed over his tickets, he HAD to slide down.  Goobie decided she wanted to slide, too, so ‘Love bought the tickets ($4 worth!) and walked the kids up the loooong staircase.  He admitted later that as soon as they were situated on their felt sacks, he wished them luck and gave them a quick shove before they could change their minds.

Recounting this adventure the following day, Peatie confided, “I was feeling a little bit scared, Mommy, but Goobie was there with me, so then I thought that I really didn’t have to feel scared anymore.”  That struck me as pretty glorious insight from a three-year-old: so much of life is more bearable (fun, even) with a friend.  I hope that my children can continue to be there for each other as they grow older, and I pray that they find others to surround them, too, as they age—friends, spouses, neighbors…a whole community of people to do life with them.  Life is lived much better in community.

a thrifty thought for thursday: it pays to spend (some) on a water heater

Our basement is home to a sixteen-year-old relic of a water heater.  The beast was inefficient when it was purchased (I think the “your model” indicator on the Energy Star label is in the “so inefficient you may as well go out back and boil your water over your fire pit” realm); it now treats us to the auditory equivalent of a Fourth of July fireworks display every time we deign to use a bit of hot water.  Before we find ourselves shivering in the shower because our friendly beast has quit working, we thought we’d look into finding a replacement.

I called our plumber.  “All the newer models are energy efficient,” he proclaimed.  “It doesn’t matter what one you choose.”

I called our local plumbing supply store.  “You really pay a premium for that extra efficiency,” the man on the phone declared.  “Most people just stick with the standard model.”

I did some research.

First off, it took me a while to find what I wanted: a cost vs. efficiency breakdown.  I finally ran across it here.  Unfortunately, their chart didn’t go quite as high as I’d hoped—but my elementary math skills stood me in good stead.  I noticed a pattern: for each .04 increase in efficiency rating, you save $11 per year.  That savings gets multiplied by 13, the average life span of a water heater.  So here’s what I figured out (hopefully accurately):

.53 = their “standard” water heater

.65 = our local plumbing supply store’s standard model.

  • The difference between the local standard and the internet standard is .12.
  • This efficiency difference divided by .04 is 3.
  • For each year I run this model, I would save 3x$11 or $33 over the internet standard.
  • Over the 13-year life of the water heater, I would save $429 over the internet’s .53 model.

.90 = our local plumbing supply store’s high-efficiency model.

EnergyGuide sticker on water heater

See that? Our old water heater’s rating was as far to the right on the efficiency line as this one is to the left. Hooray for energy savings!

  • The difference between the local high-efficiency and the internet standard is .37.
  • This efficiency difference divided by .04 is 9.25.
  • For each year I run this model, I would save 9.25x$11 or $101.75 over the internet standard.
  • Over the 13-year life of the water heater, I would save $1322.75 over the internet’s .53 model.
  • Over the 13-year life of the water heater, I would save $893.75 over the store’s .65 model.

.95 = our local plumbing supply store’s ultra-high-efficiency model.

  • The difference between the local ultra-high-efficiency and the internet standard is .42.
  • This efficiency difference divided by .04 is 10.5.
  • For each year I run this model, I would save 10.5x$11 or $115.5 over the internet standard.
  • Over the 13-year life of the water heater, I would save $1501.50 over the internet’s .53 model.
  • Over the 13-year life of the water heater, I would save $1076.50 over the store’s .65 model.
  • Over the 13-year life of the water heater, I would save $178.75 over the store’s .90 model.

The plumber will install the standard .65 water heater for $825.  He’ll install the efficient .90 water heater for $1200.  That’s a $375 cost increase for a savings of $893.75.  The ultra-high-efficiency water heater is $1700 installed, which is a cost increase of $500 for only $178.75 additional savings.  Can you guess which water heater I ordered?

Bonus Update:  I waited until we got the new .90-rated beauty so I could include a picture.  At today’s visit, the plumber said our water heater was such an easy install that he’s knocking $100 off the price, and oh-by-the-way the utility company has a $150 rebate for efficient water heaters like ours.  So make that a $125 cost increase for nearly $900 savings.  Wa-hoo!

all my best advice, i learned from my mother

Let me just say it: My mom is awesome.  I’ve always liked her, but the older I get, the more incredible she seems.  She’s hard-working and principled, she’s always thinking of others and striving to be helpful, she says what she means, and she has good advice on every topic under the sun.  Since I’ve become a parent, she’s passed along some of her best parenting advice as I bumble through this journey.  I’ll share a few of the many tidbits I’ve found helpful.

Grandma walking with kids

My amazing mother and my big kids just happened to be dressed alike on this day. Each of them chose their outfits individually, I just happened to be there for the picture.

  • As a parent, you’ll get all kinds of advice, much of it conflicting.  Do what works for your family.  As long as you keep your kids’ health and safety at the forefront and love them up, you’ll be okay.
  • Pick your battles.
    • Decide up front which things are worth fighting for, establish your rules, and don’t back down on those no matter how tired you are; but limit yourself to making rules you can actually enforce.
    • Everything that’s not that important, well, it’s not that important.  Why pitch a battle over whether your kid decides to stow the toy cars in the red bin or the blue one?
    • There are some things you can’t force a kid to do.  Eating is one of them.  Why begin a battle you can’t decisively win?  Offer a variety of foods, encourage your kid to try new things, and hope for the best.  You’ll enjoy meal times far more if you don’t turn them into a warzone.
  • You won’t enjoy an activity at which your child behaves wretchedly.  Plan your lives with that in mind.  It may mean that you skip some exciting-sounding events for a few years, but would you really enjoy going to that party or on that trip if your kid is throwing a tantrum at your feet?
  • This, too, shall pass.  Your kids will go through lots of awful phases—the not-sleeping-at-night phase, the screaming-when-you-leave-the-room phase, the having-a-gazillion-potty-accidents phase, the talking-back-and-shouting-no phase.  Remember that each phase is just that—a phase.  Soon enough, this one will pass and they’ll be on to another one.
  • Look on the bright side.  In each stage of their life, your kid will exhibit at least a few obnoxious or distressing traits.  Remember, though, that mixed in with those negatives are the positives—the new skills they’re learning, the sweet things they say, their joy and enthusiasm.  Try to dwell on those instead of wallowing in misery, wondering if your kid will still bite when he’s fifteen.
  • Mostly, your kids just want you.  They love the toys you buy them and the exciting places you go, but your time and attention are far more important to their development.  You don’t have to spend your whole day entertaining, but do let your kids know they’re important to you by listening to them and being willing to spend time doing what they like to do.   No matter your budget, you can always afford to invest some time in your child.

What’s your favorite piece of parenting advice?

MommyDotEdu, week 2:

To keep myself motivated, I’m going to continue to post my goals.  This week I will continue reviewing our letter Bible verses and catechism, we’ll practice throwing and do some puzzles, we’ll bake and discuss hot/cold (which for some reason my three-year-old still reverses sometimes), and we’ll have some friends over for a playdate.  We’ll also continue reading and take a trek to trade out our library books.

managing meltdowns

This summer was rough on my kids.  For nearly nine weeks, we had an ever-changing stream of relatives bunking at Grandma’s house—on our turf.  As many of us would do, my kids have reacted to the out-of-control constant change in their environment by trying to exercise control wherever they can.

If told he can’t go to Grandma’s house today but he can go tomorrow, Peatie declares, “I can’t go tomorrow.  I’m busy all day fixing my computer.  Maybe I can go the next day.”  Goober throws a fit about going potty, despite having been well-trained for six months now.  Both kids are difficult at mealtimes, refusing to eat or engaging in activities they know to be disallowed (blowing bubbles in their cups and spraying milk all over, for example).  I lamented that I never know how they’ll behave when I take them to a store or playdate now, whereas I used to be very confident in their good behavior.

I’m hoping that time will help them revert to their better selves.  I’m telling myself that they can’t keep up this level of misbehavior for long.  I’m praying that I’m right.  In the mean time, I’ve discovered a couple of ways to ease some of the conflict—perhaps they will help you.

Girl screaming

Someone else’s kid having a tantrum, posted on Flickr by LuluP–because, of course, my kids never have tantrums for me to photograph.

If you sense a fight coming on, find a way to make your child feel empowered. 

I’ve been way behind on laundry lately, so the other day I had to rummage through the dryer for an outfit for Peatie.  I found one of his favorite shirts and grabbed a pair of shorts to go with it.  “Here, Peatie, I’ve got something for you to wear,” I said, holding out the clothes.  Noticing shades of mutiny on his face, I hastily added, “I think you like this shirt.  Do you think it looks like a good one to wear today?”  Suddenly, the ball was in his court.  He hesitated briefly before agreeing that he would like to wear it.

When your child is beyond reason, work the distraction angle.

Sometimes you can explain yourself to a child and have them understand and move on.  When your child is overtired or is engaged in a power struggle, no amount of calm reasoning or irrational yelling is likely to get through.  Those are the times that I’ve found it best to calmly explain myself once before engaging in Operation Distraction.

Goober never wants to use the potty at bedtime lately.  I can’t force her to go, but I calmly inform her that we need to try to go potty before we go to sleep, otherwise our bodies can’t relax and get the rest we need.  I help her climb on the throne as she wails, and then I ask her about something we’re going to do the following day or launch into a silly song.  Inevitably, she begrudgingly relaxes.

My top distraction tactics, depending on the child and the situation, are bursting into song, asking the child about something I know they enjoy considering and discussing, or pulling out a favorite book to read while snuggled together on the couch.  Physical contact seems to be helpful, so I often pick up my distraught children.

In the end, know your child.

Sometimes you skate right on past providing options and utilizing distraction, and your kid heads straight for a meltdown.

When Peatie is in full meltdown and none of my comfort techniques are having any effect, I send him to snuggle his buddy Teddy on his bed.  Because I know that somehow being up in his space and snuggling his Teddy works as a reset for him, I require him to do this when he is too overwrought.  Within two minutes, he’ll be back downstairs with Teddy tucked under one arm while he wipes tears from his newly-calm face.  This tactic doesn’t work for Goobie—I’ve tried, and she just sits on her bed and howls all the harder.  For her, sitting and reading is like a magic charm, providing her the comfort and distraction she needs to calm down.  Each little personality has different needs, and your delightful job is to figure out what those are.

What are your go-to techniques for meltdown management?

purposeful parenting, part 2: MommyDotEdu

So I’m a goal-oriented mommy.  I think we’ve already established that.  And at the beginning of the summer, I professed that I wanted to be mindful of what I do with my children, ensuring that I help them to develop skills that I think are important and to enjoy a wide range of experiences.  Over the summer, I took some time to ponder what I think is important.  Here’s what I came up with:Kids' Toys and Art

  • Social Skills: All toddlers and preschoolers are in the process of developing their social skills, learning how to get along with others.  The only way to develop these skills is through practice.  I’m committing myself to finding a minimum of one social activity each week (beyond church) to give my kids a chance to interact with other kids and adults.  I’ve decided that I’ll look for free library programs, arrange playdates, and try to participate in a variety of MOMS Club activities to fulfill this goal.
  • Physical Skills: While little ones naturally hone in on activities that help them to develop physically, it certainly can’t hurt for me to provide them with a wide range of opportunities for development, particularly in areas that I note weakness or particular interest.  I’ve made a list of activities that develop either gross- or fine-motor skills, and I plan to pick a skill each week to make a priority for us.
  • Faith Formation: For ‘Love and I, our Christian faith is important to us.  We have already committed to going to church each week as a family, reading our children’s Bible daily at dinnertime, and praying before meals and bed, but I wanted to put more thought into nurturing their faith.  To that end, I’m working on ABC Bible verse coloring pages and plan to continue working through the Catechism for Young Children with them so they know what it is we believe.
  • Social Awareness: As part of their faith formation, I believe it’s important for my kids to learn to think about others, appreciating the diversity of people in the world, knowing a bit about what’s going on in the world, and recognizing their responsibility to care for others.  While some of this global and social awareness is difficult to communicate to kids little enough that they have no concept of any place other than where they live, I can work on the social responsibility aspect.  Our church collects food for the food pantry on an ongoing basis and provides meals for a local homeless shelter; I already have the kids help bring canned goods to church for the food pantry, and I can have them help me bake brownies to supplement the meals for the homeless shelter.  I have the kids help me shop for school supplies to drop off at the Salvation Army, and I’ve been doing Operation Christmas Child and Project Angel Tree for years; I’d like to get the kids more involved in those, though I realize it will be difficult at their ages for them to understand why we’re giving all the cool new stuff away—I’m not quite sure how I’m going to deal with that, but we’ll see…
  • Art and Culture: I want my kids to be exposed to and learn to appreciate the arts and cultural experiences.  I want them to experience live theater (professional and local/school), live music (symphony and local bands in the park), local cultural festivals, and a variety of museums.  Our early bedtime prohibits much of this for now, but I’ll be looking for daytime opportunities this year.  My goal is to try to find one kid-oriented theater production, one kid-friendly museum, and a cultural festival within the next six months, and I think that’s doable.  I also plan to listen to a variety of music, provide a wide range of art supplies, and attempt to cook at least some slim variety of different food types.
  • Science and Nature: One of the drawbacks of school is that it’s hard to do hands-on science with large groups of kids.  Schools find it much easier and cheaper to teach from textbooks or have the teacher demonstrate an experiment while the kids watch and take notes.  I want to encourage my kids to appreciate the world around them and to understand how it works (at some level—mostly through experience and exploration at this age).  Since there’s only the three of them I can provide more hands-on experience than a school can, and I want to do so as much as possible.  I’ve made a long list of science-related activities I think would be fun for preschoolers, and I plan to continue to spend lots of time in the backyard and hiking at local nature preserves.
  • General Academic Information: This is the part most folks seem to be stressing over lately, but I put it at the bottom of my list on purpose.  While I want my kids to be brilliant and all, I think most of what they need to know at this age they’ll pick up on their own.  If there are certain things I think they ought to know, I’ll work them into our life.  Mostly, I plan to read to them as much as I can, taking a visit to the library every week so they can pick out a few fresh books to keep them excited and interested.  Other than that, I plan to talk to my kids, answering their questions and pointing things out to them.  I plan to sing, make silly rhymes, and recite particularly appropriate/memorable poems we’ve learned from our books and magazines.  I plan to discuss my daily activities and involve my kids in everything from cleaning the house to shopping to making meals.  Basically, I plan to live with my kids.  That’s educational, right?

Mommy’s Goals for this Week, Or MommyDotEdu Fall 2012, Week 1:

  • Social: Attend a MOMS Group meeting where the kids can play with other kids and watch Mommy interact.
  • Physical: Give the opportunities to work on climbing (gross motor) and writing (fine motor).
  • Faith: Review the Bible verses and catechism we began memorizing last fall, before I got too pregnant and tired and lazy.
  • Art and Culture: Listen to (and sing/dance along to) a wide variety of music.
  • Science and Nature: Fill up the pool or tub and give the kids things (and let them find their own options) to test to see if they float or sink.  (Who doesn’t like playing in water?)
  • Academic: Read at least 15 minutes per day, find things to count—especially in the teens, since each kid seems to skip a different number in that range.

Please note: This does not mean that I will forbid my children from doing puzzles, riding their bikes, painting, and rolling things down the slide because they don’t happen to be on my weekly goal list.  Nor does it mean that I will duct-tape a pencil to my kid’s hand if he’s not in the mood to work on writing or tie her up and make her dance like a marionette if she’s not feeling the beat.  This is simply my way of giving myself go-to activities for those moments when my kids need distraction and I’m drawing a blank.  It’s also my way of helping myself to notice the work I am doing with my kids on a daily basis anyhow; making a list like this serves to prove to me that I’m making strides with my kids and being deliberate about my parenting, doing the best I can to equip my little folk to be the best they can be.

What have you decided to prioritize in your parenting?