Mary-ed Life

Thoughts on love, marriage, children, and random trivia.


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Tips for Surviving Parenthood: Part One – Multiplying

Parenting is a tough job. Only other parents understand how tough. And only other parents that have recently had children your age REALLY understand. I’m a stay-at-home-mom, so I call my stay-at-home-mom friends a lot to celebrate milestones, vent frustrations, and ask for suggestions and tips. Over the years, I’ve gotten a lot of helpful advice and I’m going to share it with you.

Part One: Multiplying

It’s 8:27 a.m. The bus arrives at 8:32. You have successfully fed both your first grader and your toddler breakfast. They both have on weather appropriate clothes. The first grader even puts her library book in her backpack AND brushes her teeth.

You feel like a parenting rock star! You are going to be on time! Then, the first grader says, “Mom, where are my shoes?” Commence the exhaustive tornado search under couches, beds, tables, etc.

Do you make it to the bus?

Maybe.

Maybe not.

Sound familiar? Shoes aren’t the only culprit. Socks are notorious as well. Homework papers, library books, pencils, and permission slips round out the list. And that’s just the last moment before you head out the door.

Here is your first parenting survival tip: Buy multiples of anything you can’t go without.

When my oldest started preschool at age three, I got a short list of things required by the school. Each day, I was supposed to send my child to school with her own bag and it had to contain a complete change of clothes including socks and shoes. I wasn’t at all surprised that they wanted a change of clothes. After all, three-year-olds do still have potty accidents and they certainly get dirty easily. But an extra pair of shoes? I asked my daughter’s teacher why this was a requirement. She explained that shoes get dirty too, or wet, or whatever. It’s easier on everyone if the children always have an extra pair. I thought it was overkill, but it was the rule, so I went out and bought my child two new pairs of shoes for school.

And I’ve bought her two pairs of shoes every year since, because it wasn’t overkill at all. It was brilliant. Multiple pairs of shoes means you can always find at least ONE pair. And when you have school age children and have to be out of the house by a certain time, this is a wonderful idea. That year, my daughter only went to preschool two mornings a week, but both pairs of shoes got lots of wear. I still remember the first time she stomped into a deep puddle right after we walked out of the house to go to the grocery store. I grumbled for a minute until I remembered, oh yeah, I have another pair! We only lost a couple minutes and I didn’t have to listen to her complain about wet shoes for the next hour.

Shoes aren’t the only thing I multiply now. When my youngest finally transitioned to underwear, I bought her eighteen pairs. I keep several in the car, a couple in her backpack for the gym’s daycare, and the rest are in regular rotation.

Each child has two jackets. They always seem to get misplaced. I don’t bother to buy multiple winter coats though as they are expensive and somehow don’t get misplaced nearly as often.

My girls have several pairs of gloves/mittens, scarves, and winter hats. (We live in the lake effect snow zone.)

I buy toothbrushes from the dollar store in packs of three.

I buy the giant packs of paper towels and toilet paper from Sam’s Club.

I always try to have one extra shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, and bar soap.

I have five laundry baskets for four people.

I am absolutely not a hoarder or a pack rat. I don’t own multiples of everything. Just the things I can’t really be without. And, as a result, my parenting life is a little less chaotic.

If you are wondering what you may need to multiply, just ask yourself what you always seem to be missing. Shoes? Yeah, start there.


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Breastfeeding Through Hard Times: How I Survived Low Supply

I always knew I wanted to be a mother and when I got pregnant with my first daughter, I was thrilled. It was a hard pregnancy, fraught with morning sickness and blood pressure problems, but my beautiful girl was born perfectly healthy.  I named her Ariana and she was perfect in every way, except one. She would not latch.

I really wanted to breastfeed. I have food allergies and breastfeeding is one of the best ways of preventing food allergies in your children. I didn’t know much about breastfeeding and Ariana was born on a holiday weekend, so the hospital’s lactation consultant was not there. When latching problems presented, a nurse gave me a nipple shield. I continued to use a nipple shield, each time I breastfed my daughter, for the next year.

Yes, I used a nipple shield for a year. It was annoying and often frustrating. No matter how hard I tried, my daughter preferred the nipple shield to my bare breast. I wanted her to have the breastmilk, so I persevered. She nursed exclusively for six months and I weaned her at thirteen months. She is now a healthy five-year-old and I don’t regret the difficult times I spent nursing her one bit. However, when I got pregnant with my second daughter, I vowed I would nurse her without a shield, somehow.

My second pregnancy was worse than my first. I had morning sickness, heartburn, and severe asthma problems. At fifteen weeks gestation, I developed appendicitis and had to have emergency surgery. Despite all this, Lorien was born beautiful and healthy, completely naturally, on her due date. I immediately started nursing her after birth and for the first two days she did very well. Then, we came home and the problems started.

My milk took forever to come in and my supply was very low. Nursing was uncomfortable. Lorien would only nurse if I lied down, which made nursing outside the home impossible. We began supplementing with formula after each nursing session, and, after a week, a lactation consultant realized the problem. Lorien was “tongue-tied.”

“Tongue-tie” or tight frenulum is a rare mouth defect that prevents the baby from latching effectively. A small flap of skin under the tongue prevents the tongue from moving as much as is necessary for a baby to nurse. A simple procedure, called a frenotomy, removes this flap of skin, allowing for proper tongue movement. Lorien had this procedure at ten days old. I attempted to nurse her an hour later and she latched properly for the first time. I was so happy and relieved. My baby could nurse! I just burst into tears. We are going to be okay now, I thought.

But, it wasn’t that simple.

I still had very low supply.

I still had to supplement.

I felt lost and hopeless. I wanted my baby to have breastmilk, but how would I ever get my body to produce enough for her to not need formula? Well, this is how I did it:

I started meeting with my lactation consultant EVERY week. I needed the support. She guided me and encouraged me through the toughest stages. I wasn’t nursing for the first time, but I hadn’t had supply issues with my first baby. This time was different and it was very much like starting from the beginning. My lactation consultant gave me some suggestions:

Nurse as often as your baby wants.

Supplement with as much formula as your baby will take after nursing, but don’t replace nursing with formula.

Pump as often a possible after nursing to stimulate your breasts. (After all, you are never truly empty.)

Give your baby supplemental feedings while you pump to save time.

Use any extra milk that you pump to supplement as well.

So, eight or so times a day, I would nurse Lorien. Then, I would hook up a double breast pump (using a pump bustier to hold everything in place). While the pump stimulated milk production, I would give Lorien her formula supplement.

In the beginning, Lorien would take four to eight ounces of formula after each nursing. I pumped and supplemented every daytime feeding. At night, I nursed and supplemented with prepared bottles in the fridge, but skipped pumping if I was too tired. Also, I couldn’t pump if we had a feeding outside the house.

I averaged at least four pumping sessions a day in the early weeks. It was hard. Feeding took forever, sometimes as much as an hour from start to finish. My whole day seemed like nurse, pump, wash bottles, repeat. It felt interminable at times, making the visits from my lactation consultant even more important. She reminded me why I put myself through it. She reminded me of all the benefits I was giving my baby. She reminded me that it would get better. She told me over and over: it won’t last forever.

As time went on, I noticed that Lorien started taking less formula. I also noticed I was getting more milk from the pump (even though every pumping session was after a nursing session). You see, all the pumping was signaling my body that more milk was needed. After three months, Lorien’s pediatrician told me I could try stopping the formula. The test would be Lorien’s weight gain. If it remained constant while she drank only breastmilk, then the formula was no longer necessary. We closely monitored Lorien’s weight gain over several more weeks. Success! She gained weight normally without any formula.

Before she reached four months of age, Lorien was completely breastfed. I continued to pump a couple times a day. I froze the pumped milk and used it later when my husband or another family member wanted to feed her. I made more milk than I ever thought was possible. My personal best: ten ounces of pumped milk! (That was after nursing a full feed.)

Lorien is twenty months old now. She still nurses. I know that she will wean soon, maybe in a month, maybe longer. It is very bittersweet. I love nursing her. After all I went through to make sure she could have breastmilk, it’s hard to think about not nursing anymore. I know she will always be my baby, but for all these months, we have had this special bond. We will never have a bond like this again. One day, she won’t want to nurse anymore, and that’s fine. We will cross that bridge when we come to it.

I hope reading my story gave you some comfort and hope. If you are struggling with nursing, please call a lactaction consultant, or a friend who breastfeeds, or your pediatrician, or even your mom. Support is so important. Surround yourself with well-informed, supportive people, take a deep breath, and remember that these hard times won’t last forever.


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Strategies That Made the Twos Less Terrible

My daughter just turned three. She has grown from an adorable baby to an adorable little person. She uses real words when she talks, problem solves when her toys don’t work properly, uses the potty, and interacts well with people outside our immediate family. She has grown so much since her second birthday, and it just amazes me.

Anyway, I was reflecting on the past year both fondly and with relief, when I started to think about all the ways I had developed to cope with my two-year-old’s particular breed of personality. Then, I thought, “Why not share?” So, here are the tips and strategies that got my through the twos.

Routine

I make a schedule and I stick to it. Ariana is up at seven. Any errands/outings/playdates are done from ten until noon. Then, we have lunch and she takes a nap (or sits in her room quietly). Any afternoon activities happen after that. Dinner is between five and six. Then, she gets a bath, and goes to bed by seven-thirty.

Occasionaly, Ariana will whine about going down for a nap or going to bed. But, for the most part, all these transitions happen smoothly, because she doesn’t know any differently. She is only permitted to stay up late at Grandma’s house.

Jobs

Toddlers love to help and feel important. It may make the job take longer, but I ask Ariana to help around the house as much as I can. She picks up her toys, buses her own plate and cup, helps with the laundry, and occasionally helps me cook. When we go out, I give jobs where I can. At the grocery store, she helps push the cart or carries a hand basket. I also ask the clerk to put one small item in a bag specifically for her to carry (usually a bag of chips or loaf of bread). As she gets bigger, so will her responsibilities, and she loves it.

Going Naked

Ariana does not like to wear clothes. At home, she mostly runs around in just underpants. I use this to my advantage. Messes from markers, watercolors, and tomato sauce aren’t a big deal when clothes aren’t involved. I only require clothes out of the house. Interestingly, Ariana rarely fights with me about what she wears when we go out. Maybe she sees clothes as a non-issue because I do.

Getting out of the House

Nothing breeds stress like cabin fever. Three years ago, I left teaching to be a mother full-time. I am so much busier now that I am “unemployed.” I have a calendar full of activities, errands, and appointments each week. Even though I have to record everything religiously to keep track of it all, I am thankful to have so much to do, because it gets Ariana and me out of the house almost every day. It doesn’t matter if we are going to the grocery store, the playground, the pharmacy, the library, or just to the mailbox. Any opportunity to change scenery is welcome.

Making Playtime Happen

In the summer, we go to the playground at eight in the morning, before it hits 90 degrees. In the winter, we bundle up in multiple layers and play in the early afternoon when it is warmest. On rainy days, we put on a rain jacket and rain boots and play or we turn on the radio and dance around the living room. On the days that are just too cold/hot/wet, we go to Monkey Joe’s and hit the bouncy houses.

Age

Sometimes I just have to shrug my shoulders over my tantruming child and say, “It’s just not easy being two.” Then, I let the storm pass and start over.


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How to Survive Toddler Plague (a.k.a the Common Cold)

Three weeks ago, my daughter came home with a runny nose. She was up most of that night because the congestion in her nose kept waking her. The next day, I came down with the same cold. She was healthy again in two days. Thanks to asthma and exhaustion, I wasn’t feeling better for another two weeks. Just as I finally started to feel normal again, she came home from a  play date with a runny nose, again. I sighed, groaned, and braced myself for the very real possibility of another week or two of sickness.

You know, after eight years of teaching middle school, I thought my immune system was pretty tough. Then, I had my daughter. Now, one cold a month is pretty common. I consider myself marked if I manage to go two or three months.

Incidentally, I’m not writing this post to whine about how many germs my child brings home. After chanting the tennets of sharing for so many years, we parents can’t really complain when our children finally comply. I’m writing this post to share ways that I have learned to survive what I call “toddler plague” and the rest of the world calls “the common cold.”

First of all, make your child as comfortable as possible. This seems like a no brainer, but it is very important. If you are up half the night because your kid can’t sleep, both of you are going to suffer longer as your body fights off the cold. Here are some other things I couldn’t go without the first year:

Breastmilk – If you are sick, breastfeed as much as you can. Your body makes antibodies to fight the virus and they pass through the milk. Even when she was only weeks old, my daughter never suffered from colds as much as I did. The antibodies helped her get well faster.

Saline Nose Drops – When Ariana was a baby, I kept saline nose drops in the medicine cabinet at all times. I started a new bottle with each cold, and promptly bought a new one as soon as I used up an old one. The saline flushes out the nose, allowing baby to breathe better. This helps with nursing and sleeping. It also makes aspirating the nose easier.

A Nasal Aspirator – Nasal aspirators suck the mucus out of the nose. They are very useful, but most kids absolutely hate them. I only ever used the traditional bulb kind, but I’ve read there are others on the market that are less unpleasant.

Once your adorable baby becomes a toddler, the rules change. Most children are weaned by their first birthday, so the antibodies from breastmilk no longer help. (If you are still breastfeeding your toddler- good for you!) To further complicate things, traditional cold medicines are no longer recommended for children under age four. So what else can be done? Saline is still an excellent option, if your child will allow you to us it. As Ariana has gotten bigger, her willingness to cooperate with such things has mostly disappeared and I have had to adapt. Here are a few things I’ve discovered:

Pediacare Gentle Vapors Plug In – This is a non-medicinal plug in vaporizer. It fills your child’s room with vapors of menthol, eucalyptus, camphor, lavender, and chamomile. I use it during naptime and bedtime to help Ariana breathe and sleep.

Hyland’s Homeopathic Remedies – Hyland’s has an entire line of homeopathic remedies for colds, coughs, allergies, etc. The age recommendations vary by product. I like Hyland’s Cold and Cough (for ages 2+). It really helps Ariana’s cold symptoms and it tastes good, so she doesn’t mind taking it.

Mattress Elevation – I stuffed about four towels under the mattress at the head of Ariana’s bed. The slight elevation helped with drainage during the night so she coughed less and slept more.

Boogie Wipes – These saline wipes do a great job of cleaning up runny noses. They are very gentle and won’t irriate the skin around the nose like repetitive use of tissues or baby wipes can. They also smell good.

And finally, for the exhausted, soon-to-be-sick parents:

Emergen-C – This wonderful product gives you an excellent immunity boost. I took it for a week after Ariana came home with that second runny nose. I still suffered fatigue and a few headaches, but my nose never ran and I largely dodged the worst of it.

Chocolate – Hey, you’re sick. You deserve it.


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Potty Play By Play Part Four – One Step Forward, Ten Steps Back, Twelve Months

Potty Training, sigh.

I wrote once that, supposedly, easy-going children do exist, children that are relaxed and easily pleased and only want to please you (the parent). I also wrote that my daughter is absolutely not one of these fabled children. My daughter, Ariana, grows more beautiful and adorable with each passing day. She also grows more stubborn, hard-headed, and unyielding. To further complicate things, she isn’t stubborn about normal toddler things. She doesn’t really care what clothes she wears. She eats a wide variety of foods. She doesn’t cling to a specific color. She doesn’t have a favorite cup or plate and her favorite stuffed animal does not have to travel everywhere with us.

So what is she stubborn about? It varies. Right now she refuses to walk near elevators and will not consider changing the line-up of stuffed animals in her bed. Twelve months ago it was potty training. Twelve months ago I started training her. She did remarkably well. After two weeks, she was using the potty wonderfully, accepting her rewards proudly. She successfully did numbers one and two and even started going to the potty without prompting followed by success. Then, she decided she wanted control and the stalemate began.

I tried everything. It didn’t matter. I read everything and tried again. It didn’t matter. I bribed. I pleaded. I hunkered down. I lightened up. I worried. I didn’t worry. It didn’t matter.

Then, about three months ago, things started to progress again. It came about slowly. We would have a really good week with lots of successes followed by a week with no successes. This continued for a while and soon it petered out again.

I don’t know what possessed me at that point, but I got tough. I sat my stubborn daughter down and told her calmly and firmly that she needed to act like a big girl. Then, I sat myself down and stopped making excuses and letting myself let her slide.

Here is the formula that worked for us:

1. Find the kind of diaper/training pant that your child likes the least and use it.

I use Gerber cotton training pants at home (with waterproof PUL sewn to the outside to make them less messy). Ariana absolutely hates peeing in them because they get completely saturated. They are the only option at home during the day. Period.

I use cloth diapers made with natural fibers (cotton and bamboo) when we are out of the house. Natural fibers allow the child to feel wet. I also use these diapers at naptime.

2. I only use disposable diapers at night (and only then because my child is such a heavy wetter and a light sleeper). I only use disposable training pants when we travel.

3. I give half of one miniature cookie as a reward for peeing in the potty. Cookies are Ariana’s favorite thing in the world. She does not get them for any other reason (unless she is at Grandma’s house.)

4. I put Ariana on the potty at appropriate times. She is very predictable. Putting her on the potty when she really doesn’t need to go just frustrates her.

5. I keep a second potty in the back of my car. It is less scary than a big, public toilet.

6. I stay consistent and wait.

About a month ago, Ariana suddenly decided trying to potty train was worth her time. The first week she had a few successes. The second week she had two successes a day, every day. The third week she had no accidents (during waking hours). Last week, she still had no accidents and she successfully used the potty outside the house. She has not done “number two” in the potty since this most recent chain of success started, but I know that she will when she is ready.

Now that I can comfortably say she is training, I am slowly progressing forward. I have moved the potty into the bathroom (instead of keeping it in whatever room she is in). I’m letting her wear cloth training pants out of the house instead of diapers. Eventually we will tackle using the “big potty” and maybe wearing underwear. As long as she continues to consistently use her little potty, I’m not going to push the issue. I know I’m just a stubborn moment away from the whole thing stalling again. I have to stay positive. I have to stay consistent. No excuses.


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Potty Play By Play: Part Two – Ready, Set, Ready?

So Christmas has come and gone. Back in November, when I wrote Part One, I decided that potty training would officially start after the holidays. I travel a lot during the spring, summer, and fall, but very little in the winter, so it seemed like the best time. Since Part One, I have made many steps toward training readiness.

 

First, I bought Ariana a potty. I chose the Fisher-Price Cheer For Me! Potty because it looked the most like a toilet. I figured Ariana might be a little confused if I was going potty on a toilet and she was going potty on a frog. It just didn’t seem logical to me to get a potty that didn’t look like a potty. So I bought the Cheer For Me! Potty and put it in the guest bathroom directly across from the toilet. Then, I sat on the toilet and invited Ariana to sit on hers. She got the concept immediately and began sitting on her potty each and every time I sat on mine.

 

I let Ariana take the potty apart and put it back together at least a hundred times over the next month. I kept a basket of board books in the bathroom near the toilet so Ariana could sit and read. I had Ariana’s favorite doll practice sitting on the potty too.

 

Next, I went out and bought training pants. True to my Mom-of-the-Cloth nature, I bought reusable cloth training pants. Luckily for me, my favorite cloth diaper brand Flip by Cottonbabies came out with a new trainer just last year. I went to my local cloth retailer, Sweetbottoms Baby Boutique, and invested in new, snazzy cloth trainers, patting myself on the back for being so frugal-chic. (I also went to Wal-mart and bought ONE box of disposable training pants for Ariana’s morning daycare. I hope I never have to buy another.)

 

Finally, I let Ariana wear her super cute overalls, one last time. They won’t work with potty training since they take so long to get on and off, but they are adorable.

 

So here we are. Potty training has begun. Stay tuned to my blog for updates.


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Toddler Wearing

Here it is almost Christmas and my daughter is twenty (gasp!) months old. It’s a busy time in parenthood. First of all, I’m carefully beginning potty training. Ariana has her own potty now that she sits on whenever she wishes. Secondly, I’m also weaning her off of her sippy cup. I swapped out her two-handled sippy for a generic plastic cup with a lid and straw during mealtime and I’m trying to teach her that cups don’t have to go everywhere she goes in the house. Progress reports on these two endeavors will be featured in later posts.

Perhaps the most exciting and draining development in recent months is Ariana’s mobility. She took her first step later than most of her peers at around fourteen and a half months and didn’t transition to walking full time until nearly sixteen months. Now that she is rapidly approaching two, her steps are purposeful, quick, and often totally without caution. Her personality and desire for independence are also growing. This has created many challenges for me, and toddler wearing has been a vital solution.

As I have written before, I started baby wearing when my daughter was two weeks old and credit this practice with saving my sanity on many occasions. Ariana was the baby that always wanted to be held, morning, noon, and night. Wearing her in a wrap or carrier gave me the ability to keep her happy and still have two hands free to accomplish little things that really needed doing, like laundry.

Now that Ariana is older, her desire to be carried has basically vanished. She much prefers going where she pleases when she pleases than just lounging in a pouch while I go about my boring adult tasks, like laundry.

So do I still baby wear? Not exactly. Now, I toddler wear!

Toddler wearing, like baby wearing, serves my sanity. I don’t have much need of it around the house, since Ariana happily shadows me, but out of the house it is essential. Walking into a supermarket or any store is like walking into Eldorado for a toddler. (Look! Something shiny!) One minute Ariana is obediently holding my hand and the next she is racing toward whatever thing caught her eye. I learned this the hard way a few months ago and have since fixed the problem by toddler wearing.

Now, whenever I go to a store intending to shop for more than five minutes, I first hoist Ariana into my Ergo Baby carrier on my back. She gets an excellent view of all the shiny things and I don’t have to worry about her getting away from me. This works particularly well when grocery shopping since I don’t have to make room for her in the cart and worry about her pulling apart grocery items before I pay for them.

I have a very nice Graco stroller in my garage that is largely collecting dust. I use it only rarely now because toddler wearing is just easier. If Ariana gets tired of riding, and the environment is conducive to a roaming toddler, I just put her down and stuff the carrier into her diaper bag, and I have no heavy, empty stroller to push around.

As an added bonus, I have continued to get stronger and build muscle as a result of toddler wearing. Ariana is now about twenty-six pounds and thirty-two inches tall. I went for a walk around the neighborhood (about a mile) with her on my back a couple days ago and didn’t feel tired at all. I regularly carry her for an hour or more before I feel tiredness in my legs from the extra weight.