Monday, April 29, 2013

The Grocery Shopping Addendum

Once a week I pack up my monkeys and head to the grocery store to replenish our supply of fresh stuff. As much as I would like to procrastinate I don’t, because I love fresh fruits, veggies and cooking meats on which I’m not taking as gastric gamble. Since I assumed the esteemed mantle of stay-at-home mom, I also took on some of the domestic chores we once shared; fair enough. So, after five years of training I know the grocery shopping as well as Jeff Gordon knows a race track.  I know which aisles I need and which products are where. I follow the same basic route each trip, with mental red flags on particular aisles for non-routine items, such as toothbrushes. As much as I dislike shopping my big girl Boots loves it. She asks with much enthusiasm on the days approaching Grocery Shopping Day, “Is it Grocery Shopping Day today?” Knowing her imminent disappointment I try not to reveal my enthusiasm that it is not Grocery Shopping Day, and reply, “Nope, just two more days.” Then she’ll tell me what she’s planning on getting for her grocery shopping toy-of-the-week.

Boots and her toy-of-the-week collection.
The toy-of-the-week agreement started innocuously enough. When Boots was in particularly squirrely phase, I instituted the rule that she could pick out one item during a trip to the grocery store. We’d head to the toy aisles and she’d pick a Hot Wheels. She was content holding her new toy for the rest of the trip.  Gone were the tantrums that used to arise from every shiny toy or sweet that caught her eye. Her expectations were set, and were both happy for the price of one small car that cost less than a dollar.

Things have changed. Our simple toy-of-the-week agreement has evolved over the years to become quite a lengthy:

The Grocery Shopping Toy of The Week Agreement

A Each well behaved child may select one small toy during a trip to the grocery store.

Addendum A (2009)
The price of the toy may not exceed five dollars U.S.

Addendum B (2009)
You may not purchase a toy that is the same as one you already own.

Addendum C (2010)
An exception to Addendum A occurs when there is a Schliech horse that the child wishes to purchase. The official ruling that they are small and cool overrides the five dollar limit, up to and including eight dollars U.S. Notable exclusion of Schleich Unicorns, which are also cool, but vastly exceed this amount.

Addendum D (2012)
If you do not wish to buy a toy (e.g. there aren’t any available that you don’t already own) you may opt for a cash payout of five dollars instead. You may save up subsequent cash payouts for the purchase of a higher value toy. [For the purpose of learning money management and delayed gratification.]

Addendum E (2013)
Five dollars is a limit, not an allowance. The one toy limit of the original agreement is still to be respected even if more than one toy can be purchased for under five dollars.

Addendum F (DRAFT)
Any younger siblings must show interest in their selection of the week without the influence of an older sibling.

As I push a lumbering race car grocery shopping cart through the aisles, Boots excitedly says, “Lets go straight to the Schliech animals! I want to see if they have any new horses.” for the third time since we got out of the truck three minutes ago.

I reply, “OK, but just the Schleich animals then we’re off to do our shopping; we have Gabs today so we are on a clock.”

I have learned the hard way that my toddlers have an internal sand timer that flips as soon as they are confined to any kind of vehicle that inhibits their freedom.

 My girls are wildly spinning the steering wheels as I whip the cart back and forth a moment before crashing into displays and aisle corners saying, “Eeerrrrch! Roooowwwrrrr! Who’s driving this thing?!! Whoa watch out!” We make our way over to the toys, buzz the horses—no new ones today. On the flip side of the aisle all the summer toys are on display so I tell Boots we’ll do a drive by to see if anything catches her eye. We stop and look at the plastic buckets and watering cans. Boots picks out a big blue bucket and Berzo gets stuck with a red watering can that Boots insists she wants. (She doesn't, but Boots wants it so she’s exploiting a current loophole in our Toy-of-the-Week Agreement.)

Berzo: "Say, cookie please."
Now that the toy-of-the-week selection has been made we fly up and down aisles, where I grab and toss with nary a loss of speed. Once we are within sight of the bakery my little beggars insist we make a pit stop for free cookies, then we hit the gas and we’re off again.

 Produce is the best part of the trip; both girls are set loose, tasked with selecting our cucumbers, apples, carrots, avocados, etc. Boots is careful to weigh—everything. Then it’s back in the cart and we make a dash for checkered flag.

 In checkout after I have both girls put back the candy they've nonchalantly slipped onto the belt, Boots spots a package of balloons. “Mom, how much are the balloons?” she asks innocently.

“It doesn't matter, you already have your toy of the week.” I reply, while frantically unloading the cart and simultaneously trying to keep Berzo from stepping on the groceries and/or falling out as she tries to put them on the belt.

“But if it’s like, only a dollar and my bucket was three dollars, then it’s only four dollars and I have five dollars to spend...”

Darn you Kindergarten—learning up my kid!! “You’re right; it is less than five dollars, but it doesn't work that way. I’ll explain on our way out. Put the balloons back.” I’m buying time as I mentally write Addendum E in my head.

We pay for our food and I wrangle the girls back into the race car cart. As we roll out to the truck, I begin to explain, “You get to pick one thing up to a limit of five dollars. Five dollars isn't an allowance for you to spend... “


As exasperating as constantly being challenged can be, I also kind of love it. I love that my girl sees a boundary, and she has to run up and down to see how far it goes. She looks for cracks in the mortar and holes big enough to crawl through. She tests her strength and the flexibility of the wall by pushing to see if it’ll move. If she finds a door in the wall she works really hard to see if she can unlock it.

 I’d never want her to cower before a barrier; afraid that it might suddenly dump boiling oil on her. I’m also glad she doesn't pretend she doesn't care about the wall only to tunnel under it later and return sweeping away her tracks. I’m glad her strong will makes my life difficult. It has taught me how and when to be firm and when it’s appropriate to negotiate. My hope is that I can help strengthen that will of hers as she grows up. She’s going to need it.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Parenting Book Review - The No-Cry Sleep Solution

Powell's Books · Barnes & Noble
Elizabeth Pantley - © 2002

There is an almost universal malady among parents of young children and babies and it’s called Sleep Deprived. You know if you suffer from this condition if your baggy eyes remind you to that you need to call Grandma June, your pillow hair resists all attempts at taming, you put the cereal in the fridge and milk in the cupboard, and slinged to your body is a bundle from heaven for whom all of this is worthwhile.

But you think, “Can’t I have this wonderful baby AND get some sleep?”

What if I said, “Yes”?

If you’re like me you’d say, “But I can’t—won’t make her cry.”

What if I still said, “Yes”?

It is possible.  I know because I was there and we did it thanks to a wonderful book called The No-Cry Sleep Solution. Instead of a one-size-fits all approach this book respects the unique combination of you and your baby’s temperaments. Not once, has there ever been a mom exactly like you, nor a baby exactly like yours. This wonderful variety among people almost ensures that whatever trick worked for someone else probably won’t for you, and you’re left feeling like you’re doing something wrong. This book supports different parenting styles by offering help for nursing moms, bottle fed babies, pacifier users, co-sleeper and crib sleepers alike and provides dozens ideas from which you plot your own route out of the fog of sleep deprivation.

At four months old, my first daughter Boots was only waking once a night and we thought the worst was behind us. However, her sleep got progressively worse as she started teething and reaching developmental milestones. I knew my tenderhearted husband and I would not be able to muster the wherewithal to let her cry-it-out, as her doctor and many of my friends felt was the only way.

According to my sleep logs, at about 9 months of age I was up 11 times a night tending to every little whimper and perceived sign of discomfort. She was sleeping a total of 8 ½ hours a night with only one or two short 45 minute naps a day. I was exhausted, desperate, and feeling like a failure because I couldn’t help my spirited little baby get the rest she needed. Other babies I knew that were her age were taking two, two-hour naps a day and sleeping 12 hours a night! What was I doing wrong? It turned out that my spirited baby wasn't wired to sleep as much as other babies, and that’s OK. Using this book, I learned how to set her circadian rhythms, (and my own) and how to prime her for sleep. With something as simple as setting an early bedtime, she improved her sleep by almost 2 hours a night! Further, I was able to learn to which night-wakings I needed to respond and which was normal sleep movements and noises. I was waking the poor thing up! The map I created led us to a place we could live in. It still fell short of other people’s standards, but that was OK; because as Elizabeth teaches it’s only a problem, if we feel it's a problem. And we no longer did.

By the time Gabrielle came along, all those changes we made to our daily life that felt unnatural four years ago were now intuitive. I followed Elizabeth’s advice without even being conscious of it and had a much easier time helping her sleep well from the beginning. Although, we too found ourselves in rough waters, but Elizabeth’s book was right there, whispering words of kindly advice like breezes into my sails, righting our course and sending us to the pleasant waters of restful nights.

How this Book Works

One of the first things Elizabeth says is to “use this book however it is helpful to you”. You don’t like the idea of doing logs all night or the formality of creating a sleep plan? Don't. It’s OK. The strength of this book is the ideas, support and hope it provides. It is a map showing many routes out of the fog of sleep deprivation. You build your own boat, choose the beacons and the speed at which you travel. The magic is that with her ideas and your perseverance, they all lead to a sunnier place.
  • Do a Safety Check
    Whether you plan to co-sleep, use a co-sleeper or crib there are important safety considerations to follow. I found the co-sleeping safety advice particularly helpful, most other resources simply discourage the practice and since I chose to do it anyway, I was grateful that Elizabeth showed me how to do it safely.
  • Learn Basic Sleep Facts
    Just the most important facts about sleep and circadian rhythms to help you understand how the following solutions will help.
  • Sleep Logs
    Logging what’s actually happening at night to help you asses your current situation. This is probably the most discouraging step, but hang in there—help is coming!
  • Review and Choose Solutions
    I was relieved when I got to this point. The solutions are divided into sections based on age: newborn to four-months-old and four-months to two-years old.
  • Create your Personal Sleep Plan
    This is the fun part. You pick and choose from all the wonderful ideas to create a plan that fits you and your baby.
  • The second half of the book deals with logging your nights using your new plan so you can track your progress and troubleshoot the rough spots. It may take several iterations to achieve the goals you set, but you’re well on your way.  At this point I began to think of Elizabeth as my wise friend and the other moms as my sleep support group. Their testimonies, woven throughout the book, are very comforting and supportive. The book wraps up with more information about revising your plan and logging your results as well as information about how to get you sleeping again, once baby is doing better. 
  • It is a concise 246 pages, chock full of advice, support and only the most pertinent clinical information. After all, tired mamas shouldn't have to wade through a thousand page tome of medical jargon to glean a little help and hope.

Once you've navigated out of the fog of sleep deprivation, you can bask in the love and beauty of your baby. You’ll see with clarity routes through the many challenges of parenthood and life.  Each night you can go to bed relaxed knowing that you have the skills to navigate through future patches of rough water, thanks to your perseverance and this lovely book.

My big girl, sleeping sideways in her bed.

Good Morning Sunshine!
After a year or so of co-sleeping we referred back to The No-Cry Solution
and here's Boots after sleeping all night in her own bed.
No tears were shed in the making of all night miracle.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

My Messy House

Once upon a time an 18 year-old-girl, restless to try her out her downy wings, flew from her father’s home and landed in a shiny new apartment. The square footage numbered 725 and never before have 725 square feet sparkled as they did under my careful eye. My roommates and good friends, Trisha and Sarah were also a naturally neat people. Keeping our pretty little apartment clean and tidy was practically effortless, and in a way, fun. It was like playing as compared to my share of the work of cleaning my dad’s much larger and older home.

Later, my husband-to-be, Charley moved in with me. I found that living with a man was a lot more work. The feeling of playing house quickly turned to drudgery as I strived to maintain the sparkle. Luckily, Charley, being the thoughtful man he is, jumped right in at my first sign of distress and started pitching in with the dirty work.  Grateful for the help, I agreed (with myself) to let the sparkle fade a little, thus striking a balance that returned peace to the land.

Nearly a decade later, we were living in a house and added baby to our family. Then another. At first I battled the grime but soon took the sage advice of more experienced mothers and gave myself permission to let things slide a little further. In reality I was too tired and preoccupied to care about sparkle. Then as Boots grew, I started noticing all that I had let slide, and the anxiety began to build. I did my best to get back the sparkle, but alas it was lost. Any sparkle I could uncover was quickly hidden beneath, toys, splashes of juice and chocolate milk, hand-prints, cat vomit, and our normal dirt. Tired, frustrated and sick of saying, “I’ve cleaned this up three times today!!”  I once again sorted my priorities and found that familial happiness ranked much higher than sparkle. Why clean the same thing several times each day only to get upset at my little one for being little? It made about as much sense as standing in ankle deep water while drying my shoes by lifting up one foot at a time.  Then shouting in frustration, "I already dried that shoe twice today!"

Rolling back my standards allowed me to focus on enjoying sharing time with Boots. However, I was still spending any and all of my off duty time doing household chores and errands. I was taking almost no time to do anything I found relaxing or gratifying. In all honesty, I didn’t feel like I should. I felt guilty every time I took a walk by myself or laid down to rest. Then during a burnout meltdown Charley, the astute observer that he is, pointed out that perhaps I should take a break—everyday. It took some convincing but as I thought about it I realized that  professionals get a lunch break not only to eat, but to unwind.  Then they come back refreshed and capable of maintaining their optimal productivity.  Whereas, I expected myself to go, go, go until Boots was asleep in her bed at night (she stopped napping at barely two).  I felt like a failure every time I fell short. Ridiculous. So instead of spending the afternoon after Charley gets home from work or Opa Day doing housework or running errands I go... out! And it’s wonderful! During this hour and a half  before dinner, I sometimes walk around our park and take pictures, or take a run, or walk to Starbucks and write, or walk to New Seasons and write, or to the library to write, you get the idea.  Sometimes I regress and do something productive but in general I'm pretty good about using this time to recharge.

Since then we have added another baby to the mix, and with two kids aged five and under, the mess now reaches new heights.  (Depths?) Of course, I’m teaching both girls to pick up after themselves and contribute to the household, but at this point I invest more energy into the training process than their help saves me. Although I expect dividends on my investment... someday.

All that housework that I’ve let slide for the last six years has landed—everywhere. The grime and dust is lurking in every unwashed window sill, nook and cranny, in every kitchen drawer or cabinet door. And there are toys and art supplies everywhere. Yesterday, Boot's friend jumped as a rogue dust-bunny floated across the floor. “Oh my gosh, I thought that was a mouse!” Yes, we have dust-bunnies substantial enough to go rogue and scare unsuspecting guests in our home. I’m pretty sure I heard it chuckle.

Charley and I keep up on the daily chores, we pick-up and sweep at least once a day (I have yet to locate the dust bunny’s secret lair), the dishes are done several times a day, as well as the garbage and recycling, the clothes machines barely get a breather and the bathroom gets scrubbed at least once a week. Our efforts keep us from fully descending into entropy; but I can see it from here, a swirling array of liberated electrons and other particles bouncing around in the vacuum of space. But I’m OK with that. Someday we’ll have more time and energy (or money to hire a cleaner) and we’ll get things back in order, but that time is not today. I have more important concerns, spending time playing with my girls, visiting with my husband, and taking care of myself so I’m able to take care of my family. My house might be messy but my relationships are neat, tidy and sparkling with love.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Rise of Cave Berzo

My little cave girl, Berzo
I find it fascinating that from the moment of conception until about age five, human development seems to parallel our evolution.  We start out as a single fertilized cell floating in water much like the first life on earth. Then much like the first complex life, a backbone appears, then fish-like gills, an amphibious-like tail and lungs, and then things start looking a bit more mammalian. Around a year or so our adorable babies begin walking with the bowed legs and the distinctive gait of a chimpanzee. My girls always completed the look by making chimp grunts and hoots as they toddled around. I called both my girls Little Monkey at this stage. This charming period ends abruptly at 18 months. This is when we reach the Cave Kid phase of our human development. That amazing prefrontal cortex has begun to grow making them smarter and more self-aware, but they have an almost total lack of impulse control and their immature brains are constantly overwhelmed with stimulation.

And so I bid farewell to adorable Monkey Berzo and say hello to Cave Berzo. Mine! Snatch you it! Again! Eat! Pooping! Eat! Plllllay! Hunt kitty! Right now! Give it to Berzo! I WANT it! Go AWAY Mama! My Moe!

I find myself running around after her saying, “You may not hit your sister on the head, hitting hurts!” and “No pulling your sister’s hair! If you want to touch Boots, touch her soft, like this.” I demonstrate a soft pet, but she grabs a handful of her hair and pulls, laughing as Boots shrieks indignantly at her hurt head and feelings.  “Let go of the kitty’s tail, it hurts her and she might scratch you!” and "You may not touch the kitty's bottom, that's a yucky place.  Let's go wash."  Berzo laughs.  I say, “Spit that rock out, yucki!” and “We color with crayons on paper.  Crayons are not for eating.  If you're hungry, I'll get you a snack.” I hand her some food which she often outright rejects and goes to hide so she can continue eating the crayon.

Like a cave person, she loves to forage for her food. A petrified raisin or stale Cheerio found under the sofa is far more delectable than anything I put on her tray at mealtime. If it’s a berry growing on a bush she’ll have it in her mouth before I can catch her. She also enjoys sampling: all forms of rocks, dirt, chalk, sticks, crayons, Play-doh; basically anything small enough to fit in there or close enough to lick. If it was stuck to the bottom of her foot, all the better!  She relieves her discomfort and gets a snack at the same time! At meal time, she pitches a good portion of her food off her tray. Then when I pop her out of her chair, she’ll often pick it up off the floor and eat it. “Cave Berzo doesn't want to be fed; Cave Berzo wants to forage.”

If you happen to be sitting or lying on the floor in our house watch out, Cave Berzo will come out of nowhere, jump and land her bottom right on your unsuspecting belly/back or whatever part she can access. Also, she loves head-butting. Everything. Last weekend at the Evergreen Aviation Museum she spotted some Plexiglass separating the walkway from the exhibit space. She squirmed out of my grasp, dropped her arms to her sides, bent over, got a trot going and head butted the Plexi. She bounced back a few steps and then grabbed my hand and looked up at me with those big blue eyes and smiled. Onlookers gave me a perplexed look.  All I could do is shrug, “She’s in her Cave Girl phase.”


Boots doesn't get it. As an almost six-year-old she has left her Cave Girl phase behind and is moving towards joining her fellow Homo sapiens. She has no understanding of what is going on with Berzo. When I tell her she did the same sort of stuff, she looks at me like, "No way mom, Berzo is just weird." Indeed my dear, we all were.