Getting away from it all: Don’t forget Respite!

The night I sat on the couch with a bowl of ice cream and started the first episode of the first season of the “Gilmour Girls” and felt guilty that I wasn’t on my computer doing “work” at ten o’clock at night was the night I realized I really really needed a break.

It was also the week before I flew to Seattle and drove north for a couple hours before crossing over to a small island by ferry for a few days of respite. My aunt’s sister had just purchased a house on the island and offered a weekend away and I jumped at the opportunity. For the first time in over ten years, I slept in a queen-sized bed all by myself for TWELVE HOURS without the possible interruption of small two-footed or four-footed creatures. It was amazing!

My friends asked, “What did you do while you were away?”

“Absolutely nothing,” I replied, “and it was glorious! I sat on the couch with a cup of coffee and watched the clouds blow off the peaks of the neighboring island and examined the fishing boats and ferries as they passed by.”

That’s it. Sleep. Rest. Good conversation. Coffee. Food. Two books that had a higher ratio of words to pictures in them (okay, they didn’t actually have any pictures in them and that was fine).

For the first time in over ten years, I spent three days as me. Just me. Not as a parent getting boys ready for school or bathed and into bed at night. Not picking up Legos and dirty clothes from the floor. Not at work making decisions on grant writing or presentations or people’s health. The only decisions I had to make were whether I was hungry or not and what I wanted to eat.

I’m a firm believer in “respite.” I spent my entire college, grad school, and medical school years taking every Sunday “off” as respite. I consistently counsel new parents to build in respite to get away with each other, and I have many times watched children for the weekend for parents to get away. I also co-founded a “crisis nursery” in our community a few years ago to provide respite for every and any parent who needs it. And yet, it took me ten years and near exhaustion and a wonderful person to say, “Can someone watch the boys for a few days? I’m serious” to get me to apply my philosophy to myself and get on a plane.

guemes1I have absolutely no regrets. I actually relished having six hours on a plane where no one could reach me and all I needed to do was read a book and munch on some pretzels. I woke up on the second day feeling rested and refreshed. When a winter storm blowing in caused us to push back our flights by a day, I fretted for a while about how my eldest (and least flexible) son would handle another day without mom, but soon realized that clearly I was the one who needed that extra day to sit on the couch and watch the boats go by.

My mom is my joy. She willingly moved into my little home for a few days to juggle the boys, get them to basketball games, handle the push-back of not wanting to go to church, deal with the major emotional complete melt-down of Super Tall Guy before school on Monday morning, keep the dog alive, coordinate the babysitter and my sister’s kids’ after school care, all with a smile and grace and love. And my sister lovingly filled in to give the boys a few extra hugs and attention while I was away. I am so grateful for the support of family and friends to make this happen and the chance to meet new friends on my trip.

If there’s one thing I learned – it won’t be ten years before I take my next break. In fact, it’s been rolling in my head for years to get away with some other moms on a regular basis in January or February. This experience reinforced the importance of making sure that idea becomes a reality. Parenting is exhausting even when you are getting sleep. Sanity is maintained by getting breaks!

Who’s with me in 2018?




We just can’t sleep

This is a very strange post….but one that has been ruminating in my head for so long. The problem is, I just don’t know how to adequately capture the complicated sequence of sleep….or the lack thereof….on the third floor. So, although this probably took me a couple hours to create due to a significant inability to do animation (hence I turn down any Disney animator positions I see open!)… should only take you a minute to “read.”  Sigh….oh well….

The key – blue boxes are beds in the two bedrooms on the third floor (mine and the boys’ room).  Characters with a “body” are awakesleeping 8…..just heads indicates they are sleeping….or at least should be sleeping.

sleeping 1sleeping 2

sleeping 3

sleeping 5

sleeping 6

Okay, to be truthful, the 6:20am is below – because my sister is a saint and lets the Little Guy go downstairs with her once she’s awake!

sleeping 10

But wouldn’t it be delightful if some day this was me….11:00pm to 7:30 am!

sleeping 7

Instead of….

sleeping 9

(and I’m hoping I don’t need to elaborate on what that blue wet area symbolizes! Sigh…)

So….I caved….it happens!

Okay, I confess….I caved….I gave in. I didn’t maintain “strong Mommy” status….I buckled….I weakened….all in the name of SLEEP! (It happens every once in a while….it just does….)

You see, somehow I had gotten the idea in my head that it was past time for the Little Guy to do away with his comfort item (binky) at night time (mean Mommy) and just rely on his blue stuffed “ABC doggie” to provide the tag for him to stroke soothingly betweenyellowduck1 his fingers. I’m not sure why this need hit me so suddenly (kind of like when I suddenly realize I need a haircut and then can think of little else but to get it scheduled!). So the poor Little Guy who was just recovering from an awful bout of croup last weekend (requiring a doctor visit for steroids on Saturday….then a doctor visit for antibiotics for the ear infection on Monday morning….and then tortured by a doctor visit for flu shot Monday evening….and now “no like doctor”…) is suddenly faced by a mother who thinks it’s time to prepare for college and wean off any childlike things (we’ll work on the diapers next).

Surprisingly, he seemed to cope just fine without the binky at night. He would lay beside me while I read to Super Tall Guy and then play happily on his bed until he fell asleep. It all seemed to be going well (at night) but I soon noted a terribly disagreeable pattern in the mornings. I’d hear Little Guy rustle around at 4:15….then call my name repetitively at 4:34….then come to my room at 4:49….then stand at the foot of my bed at 5:15….then climb into my bed at 5:22…. And any time I would snap “get back to bed” or guide him back to his room and bed, a torrential of tears would ensue surrounding the words “Mommy, mommy, mommy.”  While seemingly heartbreaking for him, it would also prove to be quite disruptive to the sleep habits of Super Tall Guy flipping around in my bed and Mr. Ornery sleeping on the floor of the “boys’ room.” I believe I’ve mentioned before that I become an irrational beast when awoken before 6 am.

And then, this morning at 5:08, it dawned on me! I took Little Guy back to his bed and said “wait here…and I’ll get your binky.”  Magic words. He waited. He stayed in his bed. He reached up eagerly for the monkey and ducky Wubbanub and fingered the tabs at the tail end and drifted back to sleep. I eagerly returned to some unanswered dreams until 6:30 when he rejoined me….and we lay in bed until 7. Wow.  That was worth caving in!

I think this caving falls into the parenting rubric of “pick your battles.” And this is not only trying to choose which battles are important to your kid….but which ones maintain any semblance of your own personal sanity.  For example, the boys do eat in my car (which is now growing the next generation of penicillin to help solve the problem of antibiotic resistance). In addition, I have given in to the fact that chicken nuggets can be a protein source, and that ketchup is a daily antioxidant and natural vegetable (though we all know tomatoes are fruits). And, I have given up the saying of “no jumping on the couch” – instead it has become “no jumping on other people’s couches!!”  And, I also cave a bit more than I’d like in using a very large flat screen as a “distractant” while accomplishing other miscellaneous tasks around the house. Yes… parenting has changed from what I might have imagined it would be. And yet, it is working (sometimes) for the needs of myself and my boys – and surviving the day (and finding glimpses of joy) is what counts!!

Guess what’s in the Little Guy’s mouth tonight?

3 Things you absolutely positively cannot control, so quit trying!

And the sooner you learn this, the better parent you will be.1. You cannot control your child’s sleep. This you learn pretty early on. You can help your baby fall asleep by rocking and soothing. You can try to make sure the room is a perfect temperature, dimly lit, comforting, and definitely not too noisy. You can put a sign on the door bell that asks people not to ring it during nap or evening time. You can even have a video monitor of your child’s crib to make sure all elements are under control. But the little being inside that crib doesn’t really care about your efforts at all.  If he’s tired, he’ll sleep (in your arms, in the crib, in the car seat, on the floor, on the back of a donkey – he doesn’t care – he’ll sleep!). If he’s not tired, he won’t – even if you’re tired, even if you’ve controlled every single possible aspect of the environment around him, even if you threaten him (or promise to reward him).  He doesn’t care. If he doesn’t want to sleep yet – he won’t.

So calm down, grab a book, sit on the floor outside the room and wait it out!

2. You cannot control your child’s “waste” systems – neither of them (well, not the third – the vomitus system – either!).  He will eventually learn to control it himself, when he wants to using whatever reward/consequence system that he wants to. You have no control over this. Come now – imagine going through two whole years of your life with some absorbent thick elasticky material between your legs to “catch” you know what. And the changing of said messy “diaper” was completely random and usually involved being laid down at times in which you definitely were involved in something else and not what you wanted to do. And sometimes you’d be subjected to this indignity when you were dry, sometimes when it was coming down your legs, and sometimes you just had to endure “the sniff.”

But…. then sometime around 2 to 3 years of age, you’re expected to suddenly stop messing up this diaper thing and instead there is whooping and hollering every time your urine and excrement land in a pool of water that whooshes petrifyingly in an ever-narrowing circle until a huge swallowing glug rings out. And this is thought to be “normal”….hmmmm…..

So let’s face it – you, the parent, have no control over when this child decides to transition from “yep, done” to “Mommy, mommy, I have to go pee!”

3. The third, and probably my most frustrating, is the realization that you also have no control over the child’s vocal activities! And, by golly, they figure this one out pretty young – screeching repetitively and annoyingly in the back seat of the car out of the reach of your sweeping hands.  Sharing “sensitive” information — “Mommy, that man has no hair” — in the middle of the silence of the congregations’ prayer. Or, “That man’s smoking, he’s going to die” as we walk past. Or the Little Guy who just stands in the middle of the kitchen floor screaming and screaming and screaming ….

Nothing can stop the determined disturber of the peace. Somehow, yelling at a yelling toddler to stop yelling just doesn’t seem to have the right effect. And shoving their mouths full of Kleenex would likely impair breathing and not be such a good thing. Even sending them to the time out stairs does not affect the chalk-on-board volume level emitting from their vocal cords.

It’s particularly frustrating when you have no idea why the illogical youngster is melting in a fit of whines, tears and screams. It happened to 4 out of 5 boys one morning this week, during the 15 minutes before getting all five shoed and shooed out the door. My strategy – pretend not to hear anything, pretend my frustration level is not skyrocketing and my blood pressure not soaring. Guide, cajole, demand, plead…anything….anything to get them in the car and deliver them to the substitute caregivers for the day. Then smile and say “good luck.”

Yes, once you figure out in the early years that you actually cannot control these little creatures, you’ll be quite ready for the teen years!

Ps….you also can’t control the number of stickers they choose to decorate with, the number of windows they break, or how much water they splash out of the tub!

How my 4-year-old Tries to Torture Me

“Give me rules

I will break them

Give me lines

I will cross them”

I paid attention to the words of the song “More like Falling in Love” by Jason Gray today.  This is my Noah:  “Oh, I’m sorry, Mom – did I just walk right over your line?”  “Did you really mean ‘no’ or was that just a little suggestion?” “You’re kidding? You’ve told me a 100 times not to touch your dental floss…that stuff that goes on and on forever?”

I was out of town last week for an overnight. I struggled with going away. I miss the boys. I know that I will miss the boys. I also know that it is delicious to have a night away – I slept until 7:20 – and could have gone back to sleep if I didn’t have a meeting to get to.

So Micah was on strict orders to “be good for Grandma” as he is the one who often gets off-kilter when the schedule changes up in any way. In fact, I told him that if he did behave, I would reward (read “bribe”) him with a Nerf gun to play with our good friends that we were going to visit for the 4th. As Nerf toys generally “disappear” in a household where we “don’t shoot people” (why is that such a hard concept for little boys to understand?!?!), this “reward” seemed quite enticing to him.

In fact, when I returned on Tuesday, Gammie reported that “Micah was an angel”….. “your Noah, on the other hand, was a terror.” Oh, so I had this confused. Apparently (I learned from my mother), Noah has decided that the fact that “everybody loves my curly hair” now gives him total and complete leeway to “break the rules and cross the lines.” He really is stinkin’ cute, but….

Now I hate to start invoking the “second child” phenomenon as I am one (and thereby close to perfect!)….but this little 4-year-old is certainly working on creativity.

Not only does he talk nonstop – as evidenced in last week’s “bonus post” (which makes up for this week’s late post?) – but he is the most frequently occurring name on the House Damage List, particularly in the broken glass domain.

He is the sneak who drops candy wrappers behind the couch.

He is the voice in Kenny’s ear telling him to “push that button,” “pull that string,” touch the forbidden fruit.

He is the whine of “Micah hit me, pushed me, pulled my hair, did something to me that I don’t even know but seems like a good way to get a bit of attention.”

He is also becoming nightmarish at bedtime:

Me: “Pee, wash hands, brush teeth” – my nightly mantra (trying to reinforce this proper order)
Read books, Say prayers, Tuck in
N: bounce up, jump out of bed, walk out the door
Me: Tuck in
N: jump out of bed
Me: Threaten time-out
N: jump out of bed
Me: Ignore
N: wake up Seth and Micah
Me: (face red) threaten anything that pops into my brain
N: follow me down the stairs
Me: close door to the upstairs and fume
N: pound on door

Repeat the cycle until I wise up and walk away. I usually just ignore bumps and bangs and groans, unless followed by blood-curdling noises. An hour or two later, I get up and go try to find him. I’m developing a nice photo album called “Noah Sleeps” – on the floor, on the stairs, on his bed, on Micah’s bed, on my bed, did I mention on the stairs?IMG_9066

Last night I heard him sobbing and I went up to find out what was wrong.  He stood naked at the top of the stairs (why?!?) and sobbed, “I fell down the stairs.”  Unfortunately, I was not really in a very sympathetic mood as we had just had 3 or 4 rounds of the above chorus, but he was clearly traumatized by an unknown number of tumbles and melted my heart when he said “I need a hug.”

For he is also the little guy who when I call to check in the night I’m out of town says, “Mommy, I still love you.” The one who plays with me back-and-forth a little game of who loves who more (but not in the creepy pathological way of Disney’s Tangled movie!). The one who tries really hard to get his fingers into the “I love you” sign position and then calls out, “look, Mommy.” The one who demands that I sit next to him every morning for his cup of milk and a good snuggle.

My incredibly sweet torturer. Wonder what tomorrow holds?

I abhore 5:00am….Just ask the dragon

I do not like 5 am.

I was not created to be a morning person and the only time that I will intentionally wake up at 5 am is when that is the only time during the day that I have any chance of being alone. And the only times I’ve had to do that is when I’m on mission trips in third-world countries and I’ve wanted to wake up to see how the world around me is rubbing their eyes and embracing the new day.

I do not embrace the world at 5:00 am at my house. In fact, I’m not even embracing my own boys. I am generally, thoroughly, shockingly, surprisingly angry. Deep down angry that they have the gall to make any noise or heaven-forbid to say “hi, Mommy.” And I’m even angrier if they decide to say hello to a brother and thereby have more than one child awake when the birds haven’t even gotten in tune yet.

Naturally, the first step to solving a problem is to admit that you have a problem. I have a problem. I do not like the person I am when I growl at my innocent, bright-eyed bouncy children in the morning. It’s just not pretty when I try to push a 70 -ound Micah off the bed because he won’t be quiet and won’t stop poking me.

I tell myself stupidly unhelpful things like – you know, if you went to be at 10pm (it’s 11:43 pm right now) instead of midnight or 1 o’clock, you wouldn’t be so tired and grumpy in the morning. It doesn’t work. I’m a night-owl, my children are early birds. And the Great Horned Owl is known to eat over 50 species of birds, including ducks, herons, Canadian geese and hawks. I’m just saying – don’t mess with me at 5:00 am. You will face the dragon.

I have, in my own head, for the past few years thought of myself as “Dragon Mommy.” (In fact, the folder on my laptop which stores my writings is titled Dragon Mommy.)  This description is based purely on my emotional state. I don’t know, the dragons in children’s books always look pretty benign….until of course, they are disturbed. Then the faces turn red and they spew fire and burn up castles and forests and trees (eg, “The Paperbag Princess” by Robert Munsch). It can get pretty nasty….and that is what I can become. In fact, just this evening, Micah said “let’s play where you’re the dragon and you capture me and throw me into the tickle jail” – a great game which gives me fantastic exercise, but really – am I the dragon a lot?

So when Micah previously woke up at the respectable hour of 5:47, I would go against my conscience and hand him my cellphone for Netflix at 6:00 am….but not until “6-zero-zero, Micah” so that he doesn’t want to wake up earlier and earlier just to watch it. But after a few days of 5:02 and 5:08, I have totally compromised my morals. This morning when I was stuffed between Micah on one side, Noah pressing in on the other side, and Seth reaching up his hands and mumbling through the binky and toothless grin “up please”  – I handed Micah the phone, convinced Noah to go back to sleep and sent Seth off to “find Auntie” – gosh, I’m really bad a 5:00am. Please just let me sleep until 6:20 – that’s all I ask.

Maybe tomorrow morning I’ll work on a strategy to settle the dragon….maybe….

Maybe check in later in the week….and we’ll see.

…… It’s Friday….my sister comments, “wow, I can’t wait until tomorrow when I can sleep in!” I sigh – “wish I could….but my lovely little ones will have me up by 5:10.”  Yes, no change, no resolution….except that I have succumbed to it and got myself to bed a little earlier last night.  Seth probably thinks that I’m the meanest mommy in the world, because even at 5:38, I’ll bark “get back in bed – it’s nigh-night time!”


Holiday exhaustion

I’m not really sure what I’m doing awake right now (other than typing this) – because it’s a late, late 10:20pm and last night I was fast asleep by this time. I don’t really think I should be so tired – I mean, I’ve been getting a good 8 hours of sleep at night – oh no, wait, that is really a lie. How can it be good sleep when the 70-pound gorilla climbs in by midnight, blocking my ability to lie on my right side? (Well I could lie on my right but that risks getting my face hit once or twice throughout the night by a flailing arm.) And then, by 2 or 3 or even as late as 4:00 am, the curly-headed one patters up to the bed with his worn-out “blue blankie” and stands there breathing softly until I open an eye, squish the gorilla over as far as I possibly can to the right, and welcome “little man” on the left into the bed as well. Then for the next couple hours, I wake up intermittently wondering if I can still breathe….wondering if my arm is wet from sweat or if there was a pull-up malfunction on either side….wondering if it could please, please be time to get up because my back is killing me and I would like to just stretch a little bit. So…..even if it’s a good 8 hours in bed….it’s rarely a “good” 8 hours of sleep!

But most of my tiredness is the whole holiday weekend. There’s nothing like sugar and fun and anticipation and sugar and friends coming over and sugar and shorter naps and later nights and sugar to really throw everyone off.  I saw this photo on the “Proud Pretty much sums it up!Single Mother” Facebook page the other day and it made me smile. Sometimes I really feel this way – it’s been a long week at work, I can’t wait for Friday and a break….and then I remember….I’m a mom – the weekends are usually busier than the week – it’s 24/7 kids!

Weekends are also the time when it hits you that you’re “single” mom and that all the care of the kids falls on me. There’s no break from them from 6 am when the gorilla rolls over until 9 pm when the curly dude finally crashes. And when I spontaneously decide to do something – like take the boys down to an Easter Egg Hunt at my “home” church in Waynesburg – it’s all me (well, me and the very nice DVD player in the van!). And when the doors open and a hundred kids are all set free upon the lawn, it’s just my set of eyes on them. My thought? — “yep, there they go! I’m just going to trust the volunteers around the perimeter that they’ll block any attempts of my guys to escape onto the streets!” And we all did fine with only one panic moment when I couldn’t find Noah for all of about one (very long) minute! Fortunately, Seth’s runs were more like take 10 steps forward, trip on something and spill eggs out of basket, stand up and place eggs back in basket, start running forward ten steps…trip…..repeat.

I wasn’t the only one tired out. Micah had plenty of gross motor play – tackle football, wrestling, egg hunt after egg hunt. He does very well while engaged, but has had some nice meltdowns in the car as we transition from one excitement to the next. This morning’s fit of taking off his seatbelt and spraying apple juice around the back of the van resulted in 90 minutes of “quiet time upstairs” once we got home this afternoon. For the first time, there was not a complaint out of him – no “how much longer?”….no sneaking downstairs to devise something he just had to tell me….no begging for TV. Clearly he was ready for a break. And Noah was ready to play alone with his new toys and Seth was asleep within seconds of being put into his crib tonight.

Check. Holiday weekend done. Thank goodness it’s Monday tomorrow :).