Tuesday, 5 November 2013

November is the darkest month

November is the darkest month. And I don’t just mean the dwindling amount of daylight. It’s a drag, every year. It’s getting colder, the days are short and the sniffles are omnipresent. Halloween is over and Christmas is still a long way off, and being Canadian, we don’t even have Thanksgiving to look forward to anymore. 

Furthermore, the end of Daylight Savings Time has brought a pall upon our home. In the grand tradition of toddlers everywhere my son has gone completely haywire with the time change. He’s waking up too damn early; he’s grumpy and tired but wants to party anyway. Oh wait. He’s like that every day. No, I’ve come to realize that he’s just being himself. 

It’s me that’s struggling here. I’m the one who is grumpy and tired and hating this dark and hideous month. And my energy reserves are decreasing rapidly. It’s hard to be a good parent in the month of November. 

In this dark and dreary month, all I want to do is hunker down on my couch under a thick blanket and eat Cheetos. I want to block out the world and watch bad television while playing Words with Friends. I don’t want to play hockey in the basement with my kid. I don’t want to endure endless games of play fighting like pirates. I don’t want to deal with bedtime routines and potty training. I don’t want to hear whining. I don’t care what he eats for dinner. It’s entirely possible he’s watching too much television at this particular juncture. I just want to slack off for awhile. 

I’m fairly certain that once we adjust to darkness at 4 pm and our skin thickens from constant exposure to the cold, I will start to feel more like myself. I will throw myself headfirst into planning for Christmas and spend hours inspiring myself from Pinterest. We will write a beautiful letter to Santa Claus, telling him all the reasons that my son has been good this year, and conveniently forgetting to include the bad behaviour. We’ll decorate our tree and wrap presents and wear cozy sweaters. I will bake and make batches of wholesome soup that warms the soul. And when it snows, we’ll make a snowman and snow angels and drink hot chocolate together. Our memories will be captured in beautiful photographs that we will look at for years to come. It will be beautiful. 

But for now, I just want to go back to bed. And be grumpy. And stare resentfully at the 3 feet of leaves that continue to pile up in my backyard, mocking me and reminding me of the back-breaking labour that needs to happen to make them disappear. I hate November.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Cry Baby Cry

Jack o' lanterns are apparently scary after all!
I have a confession to make. I enjoy seeing my son cry. Now, before you get all uppity and start accusing me of being a terrible mother, let me qualify that. I don’t like to see him crying because he’s hurt or truly sad. I certainly don’t like to see him cry when he’s having a full-blown tantrum. It’s a very specific type of cry that makes me laugh. And I bet I’m not the only one out there who feels this way. 

It’s the kind of crying that happens when a baby is placed upon the knee of Santa Claus for the first time. Or (for my fellow Greeks out there) when a baby is baptised in the Greek Orthodox Church and they get dunked in the baptismal font by a scary looking bearded priest. 

It’s cute because it’s harmless. The way their little faces crumple up is just adorable and makes me want to smile. Sometimes that kind of crying comes at an unexpected moment and you just can’t help but laugh. 

For us, it happened this week when we carved our Halloween pumpkins into jack o’ lanterns. We finished the job, popped candles into the pumpkins and turned out the lights to see how they would look in the dark on Halloween night. Suddenly, my son freaked out and started crying. I was really taken aback because quite frankly, I didn’t think that jack o’ lanterns actually scared anyone. Apparently they do. 

Is it wrong that I grabbed the camera and snapped a few pictures of him crying in front of the pumpkins? 

Okay, I know it sounds cruel and heartless. Maybe it is. But to be fair, I immediately turned the lights on, gave him a hug and distanced him from the offending pumpkins. I’m not that terrible a parent. 

Maybe it’s just because my son is just such a rough and tough fearless kid who spent the last month watching Halloween themed videos on YouTube. Nothing seems to truly scare this kid – until something does and then it’s just such a surprise, I can’t help but laugh. 

The funny thing is, after looking forward to Halloween for the past month, he has suddenly announced that he doesn’t want to go out trick or treating and that he wants to stay home. I must admit that I’m surprised – isn’t the whole appeal of Halloween to go out in your costume and collect treats? He’s still young, though, and our intention was to visit just a few houses on our block and then come home. But I guess we’ll see how he feels come trick or treating time! As cute and funny as it was to see him cry with the pumpkins, I don’t really feel like forcing a scared child to walk the streets and cry as he goes trick or treating.

I guess maybe I’m not such a bad mom after all.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

The Sales Job

I consider my son to be a good eater. He’s not truly picky except for a few things that he won’t touch with a ten-foot pole, a feeling to which I concede most people are entitled. But the fact remains that he is two and a half years old. So being very particular about certain things, especially food, has become par for the course. 

At daycare, I’m regularly floored when I hear that he ate foods like kafta and couscous salad or an omelette with feta cheese. Really? Seriously? I have come to realize that groupthink and peer pressure goes a long way in reinforcing good behaviour too! If all the kids are eating the omelette, so will my little guy. Thank goodness for this amazing phenomenon which also pushed my son to start napping like a civilized child. 

But at home? Things are a little different. If something on his plate just doesn’t look quite right, he pushes away the plate and proclaims “I don’t like it.” 

This has induced much frustration on our part, which often includes conceding to feeding him kid-friendly staples like chicken nuggets, fish sticks, frozen peas and/or corn and grilled cheese sandwiches. But lately, we decided there had to be a better way. Why shouldn’t we all eat the same, healthy, homemade meals? I know very well that he’ll like what we’re eating…if only he would try the damn thing! 

So we have tapped into our inner marketers and gotten creative. Now, many meals we eat have a very special name, like “Pirate Pie” (chicken pot pie, or shepherd’s pie…or anything that involves some kind of pie) or “Spiderman Souvlaki” or “Dragon-Fighter Soup” (that one is named for recent obsession with dragons). 

The first time I did this, the idea came to me on the drive home from daycare. I began talking about our special dinner and hyping it up all the way home. By the time we got to the dinner table, he was so excited he devoured his Pirate Pie and asked for more. 

Presentation is the other thing that really helps. If food is on any kind of stick, for example, it’s automatically more interesting. If there’s ketchup involved, all the better. Of course, we try to limit the ketchup, but occasionally we have managed to convince him that there’s ketchup in some meal, even if there was none, and he ate it up. Both literally and figuratively. 

I will admit that it’s exhausting giving my kid a sales job every time we sit down to have a meal together. But when pickiness strikes, the only defense is creativity! And melted cheese on top. But mostly creativity.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

So long sucka!

It's put down the pacifier day in my house. After 30 months of obsession with his beloved "sucie" (I.e. his entire life) my son will say goodbye and goodnight to his pacifier tonight. 

It's gotten out of hand. He wants to suck on that thing all day and night. It's his comfort, his security and it calms him down whenever he's upset. However, it's also a breeding ground for bacteria and its extensive usage has created ugly patches of eczema on his cheeks and chin (from all that drooling that goes with the pacifier). This past week, he developed impetigo, a skin infection which tends to happen more easily in children who have eczema. After battling with this ugly bacterial infection, I decided that the pacifier's gotta go.

My husband and I have discussed various strategies for getting rid of the paci, including :
- cutting the tip, filling it with pepper and telling our son that bugs are eating it
- cutting off the edge of the tip and telling him "that's just how they make them now" and
- cold turkey, the heartless act of simply removing the offending pacifier from our home

But we just haven't had the heart to take away his sucie. I was a thumb-sucker for more of my childhood than I care to admit, and my husband was a pacifier kid until his sisters (twins) were born when he was three. Family legend has it that my mother-in-law once caught him taking his sisters' pacifiers out of their mouths and giving them a suck, just for a moment, before replacing each one in his baby sisters' mouths. So deep down, we both understand the deep feeling of comfort that comes with self-soothing with a pacifier or thumb. 

So we're going to try the gentler, more humane approach of leaving his pacifiers for the Pacifier Fairy. She belongs to the same union as the Tooth Fairy if you know what I mean. This morning, we wrote a letter to the fairy and told we're ready to give the pacifiers to her so she can bring them to babies who need them. We asked the fairy for a special present in exchange for the pacifiers. Tonight before bed, we will place his pacifiers under the pillow and tomorrow they will be gone. 

What special present did my son ask for? A crocodile or alligator toy. I know, I know... Weird.  But I ran into the Pacifier Fairy this morning at Toys r Us and she was looking for an alligator with the determined will of one of the Swamp People. I have it on good authority she found what she was looking for.

So long sucie and thanks for the memories!

PS - here's a link to a good series of Elmo videos that are helping: 

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

The Discipline Dilemma

When you’re a parent, especially the parent of a young child, every moment is a teaching moment. Which is a real pain in the derriere, if you know what I mean. The fact is that there’s never really a time when you can just let go and ease up on your kid. At least, not for very long.  
A few months ago, I was all about discipline and trying to teach my son about manners and good behaviour. I had created a sticker chart and we were actively teaching him at any chance that we got. If he misbehaved, he was put in time out. If he did something great, he was rewarded with stickers and praise. It worked great. He was behaving nicely, and the discipline appeared to function. As things were going well, we eased up on him.
Like many things in life, the novelty wore off for my son, as it did for us. The stickers were being awarded less and less and the time outs were being met with whining and escape attempts. I began enforcing fewer time outs and my attempts to teach my son came across as nagging, at least to my ears. The nagging was filled with empty threats that I didn’t act upon. I started resorting to yelling at my son.  Let’s face it; it’s hard to always be “on.”   
We’ve also loosened up a bit on scheduling. Bedtimes have gotten later and sometimes much later on weekends. It’s summer, the sun is out longer and it’s harder to get him to sleep as early as we used to. Naptimes are often shorter or taken in the car or his stroller. So the little guy is more tired and crankier.
Bad behaviour has started to creep back into his daily life. He is more vocal now when he wants to do something so he whines loudly or has tantrums. Or else finds a way to do what he wants despite what he is told. We’re getting more reports of misbehaving at daycare. Yesterday he even bit a friend – twice!
So it’s time to get back on top of disciplining and enforcing a regular schedule. Unfortunately, you can’t just say “job done” and move on to the next thing. As parents we must be consistent and as they say, “keep on keeping on.”  
Groan…here we go again.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Mischief Defined

The dictionary defines the word “mischief” as “able or tending to cause annoyance, trouble, or minor injury” or “irresponsibly playful.” Both definitions are very accurate but I recently learned a new way to define mischief, only not in words.

The new definition of mischief in my life is a facial expression. It’s a very specific look that my son gets in his eyes when he’s about to do something he shouldn’t and he knows it. He will purposely watch me with that look on his face and very slowly begin to engage in the misbehaviour at hand.

Example: I’ve told my son repeatedly not to eat crayons or play-doh. He does it anyway, because he seems to know instinctively that while doing so is not exactly acceptable, it’s not exactly dangerous either. And the taste, texture and smell of crayons and play-doh are somewhat intriguing to the unsophisticated palette of a two-year-old. Plus he knows it annoys me and I usually react in a way that is satisfying and amusing to him.
So when the urge strikes him, he will take a piece of play-doh and without taking his eyes off me, will very slowly raise the offending object to his mouth with slight smirk and a twinkle in his eyes. 

Now I know I’m biased but my son is cute. He has a pair of big blue eyes are just perfect for twinkling with mischief and when he’s up to no good, his smile is mirthful and contagious.

So it takes every bit of willpower that I have not to laugh at him when he starts to misbehave. Unless what he is doing is really pissing me off and then that look triggers a whole other set of emotions, namely rage so powerful it makes me scream and yell.

However, when the action is pretty benign, but as a parent you just know you have to be the enforcer and say “no” it takes a lot to hold back from laughing. And oddly, I get a certain sense of pride when I see him pushing the limits. For the life of me, I can’t understand why but something about seeing him behave mischievously makes me feel a little proud of him.

Recently, we were working in the backyard and my son was helping my husband out. In doing so, he discovered how to use the spray gun on the hose. It was a revelation to him. He couldn’t get enough! But when he was soaked and it was time to go inside for a bath, we turned off the hose and he started to cry “More waterrrrrrr!” When we said no, he just gave us a look and decided to figure it out on his own. He grabbed a nearby bucket, dragged it to the faucet, stepped on the bucket and proceeded to turn the hose back on. Satisfied with himself, he returned to the spray gun and resumed his activities.

I know that action only complicated things for me, but I couldn’t help but smile and feel just a bit proud of him for taking matters into his own hands and solving the problem on his own. So I let him spray for another two minutes and then hauled him kicking and screaming into the house. Fortunately, he couldn’t see my face, because I was grinning all the way to the bathtub.

Is he mischievous? Yes indeed. But I kinda like it.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Party on! It's potty time!

Okay, so I know I promised I would never blog about potty training...but I say a lot of things that I later regret. And the reason I have to write about this is that I'm not actually potty training...at least I wasn't until today.

For the past few weeks, "Buddy" my son's bestie at daycare, has been starting to use the potty. Naturally, if Buddy's doing it, my son is intrigued. So any time the other little guy would go do his business in the bathroom, it was "me too" for my son. He experimented for awhile, sitting down, getting a feel for having the porcelain breeze under his bum. But he never did anything. Every time his daycare teacher would report this to me, I would ask if we should start doing anything at home. She said no, that he wasn't really ready yet. So I did nothing. And I mean nothing.

Sure, I bought all the paraphernalia months ago. I have two potties (one which sings and flushes), a sticker chart and a boatload of stickers, two different Elmo potty books and of course, Elmo's Potty Time DVD. I have have a book about potty training in Greek! You know, just in case he didn't understand in English. While the books and DVD have been explored and the potties have been sat upon and test driven, I never once actually tried to start officially training my son. I figured when the time was right, we would start.

The thing is, I've been dreading it a bit. Of course I don't love changing diapers, especially the stinky ones, but I must admit that I enjoy the relative freedom that comes with diapers. It's just so easy and effortless. Plus everyone always says that boys are slow to potty train and that he could even be 3 years old before it happens. So we have been in no rush to actually start.

Well, that all changed today because the daycare told me that he used the potty. Twice! Woohoo, it's potty time!

Part of me is ecstatic that he did it, and on his own, to boot. The other part of me dreading what comes next. Lots of wet clothes, venturing into public washrooms with him, the unpredictability of when he will need to go and where will we be? We have a road trip next weekend...what do I do about that?!

The other thing that's freaking me out is that I have no idea how to do this. I'm a planner. I like to read up on how to do things and prepare mentally. I have read nothing on the subject of potty training. In my state of denial, I blindly procrastinated about reading how to potty train. Maybe it's for the best though... Reading about how to do things never once helped me before. Certainly not when it came to sleep training! Maybe I'm not the best at following instructions anyway.

And what about Pull Ups? Some say yes to them, others say no... I don't even know why!

So many questions, my head is spinning. Wish me luck, it's time for me to start Googling "potty training."


Wednesday, 15 May 2013

The thing about newborns…

I have a confession to make. Newborn babies scare me. Before having a child of my own, I was always the girl at the office who didn’t want to hold her colleague’s new baby when she’d bravely make her first trip out to introduce the baby. I used to make jokes about how it was bad for my biological clock to hold babies and add that holding a newborn would likely send me straight on maternity leave. But really, I was just terrified of holding and possibly breaking such a fragile little life.

My husband is quite the opposite and regularly holds tiny babies with natural ease, as they snuggle down comfortably in his large embrace. Before we had our own child I marvelled at his natural ability with babies.

Having my own newborn did not prove any better for me. As the mother of a colicky, fussy newborn, I sometimes swaddled and rocked my baby so hard I was sure I would give him whiplash. When the only thing that would silence his perpetual crying proved to be standing for hours with him under the noisy kitchen fan, I was sure I would damage his hearing permanently. Come to think of it, maybe that’s why he’s so loud to this day…

Anyway, my first few months as a mother were rough. Very rough. I was not a natural at motherhood. By the time we hit the three month mark I finally got my groove with him and only then did I start to feel a little confident. By then we were out of the scariest phase and my son had stopped crying so damn much all the time.

When my nephew was born two months ago, I was sure that as an experienced mother I would no longer have a phobia of holding newborns. I was wrong. It turns out I’m only really comfortable holding a newborn that belongs to me. And really, who are we kidding – even that’s a stretch.

I had all the best intentions of going over to visit and holding the baby for my sister-in-law while she took a nap or a shower. Nephew and I were going to bond from the beginning. I was gonna be the best aunt ever! As fate would have it, an extremely busy work and family schedule kept me from visiting as often as I would have liked. And anytime I would visit, I was usually accompanied by my overly excited two-year-old and I spent most of the time keeping my son from pawing at his baby cousin and repeatedly yelling “Gentle! GENTLE!!!”

So in the end, I didn’t get to spend much time overcoming my fear of newborns with my nephew and every time I would hold him, I’d be sweating so much I was afraid he’d slip out of my arms. Fortunately, my dear husband always seemed to swoop in just as Nephew would start to wail uncomfortably and cradle him in that big comfy embrace of his. Phew! Saved again.

Now that he’s a solid little two-and-a-half month old, I’m feeling much better about holding my nephew for awhile so his mom can eat dinner. Even if it means constantly elbowing away my eager son from his baby cousin. At least now I know I won’t break my nephew!

Sunday, 5 May 2013

When is it time to step out of the comfort zone?

As my son is now two years old, I am really finally starting to feel settled and comfortable in my role as a mother. You know how when you first have a baby, everyone tells you that it will get easier? I’m pleased to report that it’s true. Don’t get me wrong, every day brings new challenges, but I’m much more laid back than I was a year ago.

My son is speaking better every day so we can actually communicate effectively. He eats the same meals that we do (mostly). He actually sleeps through the night now (hallelujah)! When we go out, we no longer need to pack a huge diaper bag with every possible thing we may need to tend to him for an hour. Okay, so he’s not potty trained but I’m optimistic that it will happen soon. In other words, things have truly gotten easier for us. We have left the baby years behind and now we’re fully entrenched in the wild and wonderful toddler years.

The thing that never ceases to amaze me is that I really feel like I love my son more every day. How is that possible? When he was a baby I adored him, but I think I was too stressed out to enjoy him. As a new mom, I was just overwhelmed. Now that he’s a little person, talking and doing things by himself and being a funny little character, I just can’t help but feel all mushy inside when I look at him. Yes, there are still plenty of times when he frustrates me to no end, but it feels different now.

So now that we’ve reached this comfort zone, I know that it’s time to expand the family but sometimes the thought of going through the baby years all over again just makes me want to run away screaming. My son was a good baby, but he was very active and busy and had no interest in sleeping. He was what the parenting books call “spirited.” To be fair, I always said that I wanted my child to be full of spunk - or as we like to say full of “piss and vinegar.” Well, I got what I wished for. But I don’t think that I would wish for that a second time.

Am I ready to wake up at all hours of the night, struggle through breastfeeding and changing 12 diapers a day? Am I ready to hear that shrill newborn cry that wakes a mother from the deepest of sleeps? Am I ready to wear my hair in a ponytail for a year because my baby keeps pulling it? Am I ready to struggle with understanding what it is that my non-verbal baby wants from me? Better yet, am I ready to have to give my attention to more than one child? To deal with sibling rivalry or the jealousy that a newcomer to the family brings?

I guess I’m looking at all the negatives, because obviously the positives are wonderful and well worth the effort. I know that now that I have been through it once. I only hope that my experience so far has taught me better ways to deal with parenting a second child. And I hope that my next is not full of piss and vinegar, but is an angelic, sleepy and good-natured child.

So to all those of you who are asking if we plan to have another child, the answer is yes. Hopefully we will expand our family, if all goes the way it should. Don’t read too much into this post, I am not pregnant. But as I look at my fellow mothers around me, whose first born children are about the same age as mine and are now pregnant with their second, I am starting to feel okay with the idea of going through it all over again. We’ve reached a great comfortable place with our son…but I guess we shouldn’t get too comfortable here; otherwise he’ll never have a sibling!

Thursday, 18 April 2013

You know you have a two-year-old son when…

As a kid, I was a girly-girl. I loved Barbies, Cabbage Patch Kids, Strawberry Shortcake, Care Bears and My Little Ponies. I did not like sports. Or any physical activity, really. I would play in my pink bedroom and pretend to be a mother, or draw pictures of princesses or imagine myself in a glamorous career, like becoming a fashion designer.

I’m still a bit of a girly-girl to this day, although I have since dropped the Barbies and I never really pursued my dream of being a fashion designer. And despite loving dressing in my mother’s high heels as a kid, I have a secret hatred of heels now (but it doesn’t stop me from wearing them).

So needless to say, when I found out that I was pregnant with a boy, I was a little concerned about raising a son and all the “boy stuff” that comes with it. I couldn’t help but think, ugh, this means a lifetime of hockey and Transformers, and playing with trucks and dirt and other yucky stuff. I was a bit disappointed that shopping for clothes would be more boring and that I would be missing out on the fun of having a little girly-girl of my own.

I got over those initial, admittedly shallow, thoughts pretty quickly. Everyone reassured me that boys are wonderful because they love their mommies and that while boys can be a handful as children they are way easier as teenagers. Yes, yes, I know they just were trying to make me feel better, but it worked.

Lately I came to realize, all that “boy stuff” is starting to grow on me… Here are a few signs that you know you have a two-year-old son:

- You get excited when you see a school bus or any kind of truck on the road…the holy grail of these sightings is the elusive fire truck, which does not make an appearance that often. Bonus points if its sirens are wailing. Double bonus points (for mommy) if the firemen are cute. Deduct points if you’re driving and you see a school bus and want to point it out to someone…but you’re alone in the car.

- When you get into your car and start the engine, the radio is usually blaring the Raffi CD your son insisted on making you play (that’s code for whined until you gave in).

- You eagerly plan a weekend getaway 3 months from now to a tiny town in the middle of nowhere 4 hours away because you know that Thomas the Tank Engine will be making an appearance there. Okay, maybe because there are outlet malls nearby as well.

- The theme song to Handy Manny plays in your head, night and day.

- You have matchbox cars in the bottom of your purse at any given time.

- You consider the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser to be the greatest invention of all time.

- You have perfected the art of imitating all animals that roar, like lions, tigers and bears (oh my!) Also in my son’s case, sharks. Because he thinks they roar.

- You chuckle along with your son’s burgeoning sense of toilet humour when he laughs after letting out a burp and announcing it to you.

- You no longer sigh longingly at all the adorable dresses and cute girl clothes in kids’ stores. Okay, maybe just for a second. Fortunately I have several nieces to buy presents for.

Yeah, maybe having a boy is not such a gross, snot-filled adventure after all…. And my son has let me release my inner tomboy in ways I never knew existed. Wouldn’t you know, I kinda like that inner tomboy!

Friday, 5 April 2013

Separation Anxiety

As I write this, I’m sitting in my hotel room in one of the most beautiful and scenic places I’ve ever been, Lake Louise in Alberta. Surrounded by the beautiful Rocky Mountains, fresh clean air and yes, I’m gloriously alone. You would think that this mother of a vivacious two-year-old boy would welcome the time away from home, the opportunity to sleep through the night uninterrupted and to have some precious alone time in a beautiful location (albeit while travelling for business). But all I feel is a little pang of sadness in my chest. I miss my son.
I’m not worried about him and I’m not stressed about how my husband is managing at home.  Of course all that is totally fine. When my husband has travelled on business, I was just fine too. Considering that I don’t get a moment alone at home, that I can’t even go to the bathroom without an audience, you would think that I would relish this time away.
But I miss my son’s laugh, his hugs and kisses, his funny little sayings and actions. I am seeing other toddlers with their parents and the things they are saying and doing remind me of my little guy. Although I have loved my son since the day he was born, I sometimes feel like I love him a little more every day. Except during those moments where he makes me want to scream and put him into a straight-jacket or cover his mouth with duct tape. Which happens pretty often. But the rest of the time, as he grows from the baby that he was into a little person, he makes me laugh and it fills my chest with sparkling champagne bubbles of joy.  
My husband and I decided to organize a last-minute weekend getaway to New York City next weekend and some people have asked us if we are leaving our son at home (not alone, obviously!) But we are not ready to go away without him. Yes, he drives us crazy sometimes, and let’s face it, a six-hour car ride with a two-year old does not promise to be much fun. But we don’t want a getaway from him; we want a getaway with him.  We spend enough time apart during the week when we are a
t work and he’s at daycare.
The hardest part of this week’s travel away from home was being on a four and a half hour flight and not being able to communicate with my husband or talk to my son. As the plane landed, I was like a junkie who needed a fix as I dialled home. Just in time, too, as my little guy was just about to go to bed.
While I’ve left him overnight, I don’t think I’ve ever been further away alone than a two-hour drive from home since he was born, so I guess this is a milestone I have to get through. But when I get home Sunday morning, you can bet that I will be happy to see that little guy again!

Friday, 29 March 2013

The magic of stickers

I know, I know, I have been blogging a lot less lately and I keep having inspired ideas about what to write about…and then I forget them. So I apologize for slacking on the blogging lately but life is busy!

I’ve come to a new realization about parenting toddlers…. Having a baby is physically exhausting – you spend a lot of time carrying them around, lifting them in and out of their cribs, and if your child is anything like me, you have many sleepless nights. But having a two-year-old is mentally exhausting – they may be more physically independent but their burgeoning language, social and motor skills require you to always be “on.”

When my son was a baby, when my brain was tired I could tune him out…plop him in his high chair with some Cheerios or set him up with some toys and just ignore him for awhile. Now I’m sleeping better (hurray!) and I spend far less time carrying him and attending to his physical needs – but I am constantly in behaviour modification mode. We talk and chatter, he tries daring new things like flushing the toilet or reaching into the cutlery drawer to find himself a knife, I have to reward his good behaviour and manage his not-so-good behaviour. Ignoring him and tuning him out is simply not an option. Because if he’s being quiet, you can bet he’s up to no good. It’s freaking exhausting!

In an effort to try and understand the psyche of a two-year-old and see how I could best navigate this golden age, I read the book by Dr. Harvey Karp “The Happiest Toddler on the Block.” I must say that Dr. Karp provides some very interesting ideas. They’re far from revolutionary and definitely nothing new, but it’s nice to have a summary of ideas for communicating with a toddler, managing tantrums and encouraging good behaviour. And since implementing some of these ideas, I have to say – they work!

One of the tried and true methods I decided to implement this week is the infamous sticker chart. The idea is that you want to encourage and reward existing good behaviours and teach new ones. One thing that we have been trying to teach my son is to clean up after himself, especially following a throw-everything-on-the-floor rampage. Those little scenes had been happening more than I care to admit recently and both my husband and I agreed that it was time to get him to clean up his act.

So taking a cue from Dr. Karp, I purchased a whole whack of stickers, drew up a chart with three behaviours that I want to encourage – two of which my son already does fairly well, but that I want to continue to encourage and one new one. The three things are hand washing, tooth-brushing and cleaning up. So since Monday, every morning before we leave for daycare, I tell my son it’s time to do our “sticker stuff.” We go wash his hands, brush his teeth, and then clean up whatever mess he has made in the two hours he’s been awake. Let me tell you, this thing works like a charm!

I will admit that the first two days, he was not interested in cleaning up but with repeated promises of stickers, he grudgingly did it. After seeing his accumulated stickers posted on the chart on the fridge, he started getting really excited. Now he loves sticker time! Heck, we’ve even thrown in a bonus sticker for when we want him to do something else, like finish his dinner.

What a cheap and easy way to motivate good behaviour! Obviously, I’m far from the first to do this and it’s not revolutionary by any stretch. But I’m pretty amazed that it actually works. At first my husband was worried about this being too close to bribery. But I don’t see it that way. It’s motivational – aren’t we motivated by incentives after all? Points and loyalty programs, bonuses at work…you get the picture. I don’t think giving stickers for good behaviour are going to spoil my child. Especially if you consider that we had started to go down the old “if you stop crying, I’ll give you chocolate” route! Now that is bribery.

So to come back to my original point, things are just busy around our house these days because we are always in teaching mode. It’s hard but at this stage of life we just can’t let our guard down if we want to teach our child to behave well. There is so much more that we have to do on a regular basis than just giving stickers, but this small win has made me feel like this week, I’m doing something right.

…ask me how I feel next week!

What are some of the methods you use to encourage good behaviour with your children?

Friday, 8 March 2013

Leaving a legacy

A week ago, I became an aunt for the first time as my brother and sister-in-law welcomed their first child into the world. On the same day, my grandmother was admitted to the hospital and our family learned that she would not be coming home. A week later, she passed away, surrounded by her children in palliative care.
It seems almost fitting and seems to happen often that when someone enters the world, another person leaves it. As the expression goes, when God closes a door, he opens a window.  I know that my brother is very sad to have never had the opportunity to introduce his newborn son to his great-grandmother. But he paid her the greatest tribute by keeping our family name alive, as the only grandchild who was in a position to do so.
If my grandmother taught us one thing about life, it’s the importance of family.  Absolutely nothing was more important to her than her family – and she had quite a big family.
Source: treat.com via Jennifer on Pinterest
She came from a family of six children, who as young adults, left their parents behind and immigrated to Canada from Greece in the early 1960’s. Her sister came first with her husband and slowly the others all followed suit with their families.
As immigrants in a new land who didn’t speak the language and who had to work around the clock in factories and kitchens to make ends meet, their objective was to create a better life for their children and families. As a new Canadian, my grandmother was poor but she was proud. She and my grandfather only wanted the best for their children, and over time, they achieved it.
When my grandmother passed away, she left behind five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren (and one on the way). She was so proud of her great-grandchildren, the oldest of which is my son at two years old. She would proudly tell people in her heavily accented English: “Me grandmother two times!”
To her, there was no greater accomplishment in life than to have children. From the time my husband and I got married seven years ago, she began to harass me to get pregnant. She didn’t understand that we were still young and that we weren’t ready to be tied to the responsibility of being parents. She didn’t understand that my husband had gone back to school and that for us it was not the right time. In her view, there was no more important job for us to do. Yes, she was proud that we were well-educated and had good careers. But in her view, life is not complete without children.
When my son was born, she was bursting with pride. In her view, I had finally begun to achieve my life’s purpose. Except that by that point, she had begun to suffer from a mild dementia. So she very freely told everyone exactly what she was thinking, over and over again. And she informed me that while it was wonderful that I had a son, it was now time to have a daughter.
A daughter, she told me, will take care of you. A daughter will be close to her mother. A daughter can do for a mother what a son never can. All I could do was laugh, because obviously it’s not the kind of thing that I can control. And while I hope that I am one day blessed with a daughter, I am happy that I was able to give her a great-grandchild.
As I saw my grandmother live her last few days of life, I finally understood while she felt it was so important to have children. She did not go alone. At every moment in the last week of her life, she had someone beside her. Someone who loved and cared for her, who cried for her and smiled as they reminisced about her life. She left her mark on the world, in the form of two children, five grandchildren and five (soon to be six) great-grandchildren. She has left a legacy.
While I know it’s not in everyone’s destiny to have children of their own, whether by choice or not, I am happy that I have become a mother. I am happy to be surrounded by a loving family of my own. My grandmother’s lesson is one which is close to my heart; because I too believe that the most important thing in life is family.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

A Modern Mom’s Guide to Birthday Parties

Source: partymart.com via Erica on Pinterest

When I was a kid, my parents used to host our birthday parties the way everyone else did: cram 30 of your closest friends and relatives into your home and feed them pizza and cheezies and homemade birthday cake. Then proceed to try and corral a bunch of sugar-high unruly children into playing games like Pin the Tail on the Donkey and some game my mom probably made up which involved holding a coin between your knees and seeing if you could walk five feet to drop it into an old pickle jar. Of course, when I was a kid, this was the epitome of awesome and most likely created a huge amount of stress for my parents.

Last year for my son’s first birthday party, we had a party at home with all the relatives who had an interest in attending. My husband and I cooked up a storm and stressed out as we planned the whole shindig, which we hosted at my parents’ house because our house is too small to host 35 people in February. It lasted for hours as everyone lingered and chatted and ate and hung out. It was great because that’s what you do for a first birthday party. Plus, I was just coming off a year of maternity leave and I was desperate to manage some kind of project to stimulate my brain. The party planning was the perfect integration for my brain to ease back into the working world.

Fast-forward one year. After spending months trying to keep my life balanced, my kitchen floor (relatively) clean and the clutter of toys in my basement under a semblance of control, I decided it was time for a new approach. This year, there was no way that I was going to cook and clean and have tons of people in my home to celebrate my son’s birthday. Not on top of trying to maintain work-life balance!

After an afternoon of research into local options, I found an awesome venue (Ethan’s Playground) which would have enough space for a whole whack of adults and lots of great stuff for toddlers to play with. They provide everything but the food and take care of mom and dad like royalty. I scheduled the party nice and early on a Saturday morning, so the whole thing would be over by noon. Just in time for a nice long nap after the party. And all the guests could still enjoy the rest of their day. Finally, I ordered a cake, threw together some loot bags and bought a bunch of food at Costco. Ta-da! Instant birthday party. No cooking, no clean-up, and all over in two hours. Everyone was happy, especially the birthday boy. And most importantly, the birthday boy’s mom.

Realistically, which this approach may have cost a bit more than having a party at home (but really not that much more), it was well worth the added expense. I’ve never organized a party that was less stressful. It was the perfect party for a two year old. I think as time goes on, this will continue to be my approach for kids’ birthday parties. The venue may change from year to year… but one constant will probably remain – it won’t be at my house!

That, my friends, is a short and sweet story about this modern mom’s guide to birthday parties – sealed with a KISS…keep it simple sweeties! Mwah!

Friday, 15 February 2013

The Biggest Loser

Valentine's Day is one of the most challenging days of the year at any age. When you're a kid at school, it's the popularity contest of who will get the most cards. When you're in the throes of teen angst and you are desperately hoping your crush will take advantage of the most romantic day of the year to return your love. When you're in a new relationship and you don't know just how far to take the romantic overtures. When you've been married for years and you both agree not to do anything on this crass, commercial excuse for a holiday but then one of you brings home flowers and the other doesn't. Or if you're single and wishing you had someone special to share the day with.

Personally I've always felt it's more important for the one you love to demonstrate romance on a regular basis than on one day of the year. My husband and I usually celebrate with hugs and kisses and the odd giant Toblerone bar. That's about it. And since my son's birthday falls a day before Valentine's Day, we put more of an emphasis on that celebration now.

However this year, I really fell flat on my face when I screwed up at daycare. Let me explain. It's become something of a thing that at every holiday, the parents give little presents to the other kids in their child's class. I missed the boat at Halloween when one mother gave all the kids toothbrushes. But at least I wasn't the only one. So at Christmas I gave each kid a little gift bag with some fun stuff in it. I really didn't think Valentine's Day was major enough to warrant more than the traditional little cards. Boy was I wrong.

When I dropped my son off and went to place our dinky little cards in each kid's cubby, I found a pile of goodies in my son's cubby. Shit. With no time to run out and get gifts for the kids I resigned myself to placing the lame cards in each box, noting the plethora of matchbox cars, play dough, stickers and bubbles, all wrapped up with cute Valentine themed packaging. Clearly I was the clueless mom this time.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to compete with the other parents. I just felt terrible that my son came home with tons of loot without giving anything in return. I guess I just didn't think that at two years old, this was something important. I mean, let's face it, these kids have no idea what any of is about. It's the unwritten rules that are sometimes the hardest to follow. And apparently Valentine's Day is a big deal with the preschool set. It's not like I didn't walk by the Valentine's displays at Wal Mart a hundred times in the past month. I just didn't think it mattered. It does. Is it all a little overboard? Probably. But when I'm the only one who doesn't do something, I definitely feel like the biggest loser.

So I apologize to my son's classmates and I promise to make it up to them at Easter and heck, just for good measure, at St Patrick's Day too!

As I swallowed my pride and wrote thank you notes to the other parents, I hoped they wouldn't judge me and silently promised to do better next time.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Love Bites

As Valentine’s Day is almost upon us, I thought I would share a tale of love between toddlers. It all began (for me) with a phone call from the daycare this week, asking me if my son’s tetanus shots were up to date. Not the kind of question you want to hear from the daycare.

I immediately wondered if any of the children had rabies. Or perhaps there was a box of rusty nails lying around that they had been playing with. But it’s just not that kind of daycare (and I really hope there is no such daycare in existence).

As it happened, my son had been bitten by another child and the bite had broken the skin on his finger, so there was (as the accident report outlined) “blood to saliva contact.” Ew. Fortunately, both parties in the biting incident had up-to-date vaccinations, so it was a low-risk incident.

As per daycare protocol, the educator will not tell you who the biter was, nor will they tell the other parent who was the victim of the biting. However, toddlers have no filter and are very eager to rat out their friends. Plus, parents just know. Especially in my daycare, since all the parents work together.

The biter in this case, was my son’s daycare BFF, also known as “Buddy” (as he calls him). These two are both the biggest kids in their class and they both have very boisterous and dominant personalities. Since the beginning they have been inseparable friends – they love to hug each other, they get excited to see each other, and they can play together for hours on end. They are also, however, the first to fight with one another and scrap it out over toys. Usually, my son is the instigator who steals toys or crayons or play-doh from Buddy, who retaliates and defends himself with a bite.

Since September, my son has been bitten at least six times. I’m not sure if it’s always the same biter, but I know he’s been the perp on a few occasions. Nonetheless, I don’t feel like my son is the victim, because he almost always does something to cause the attack.

Anyhow, they are classic frenemies. They love each other, but they also love to hate each other.

When I received an e-mail of concern from Buddy’s mother last night, I just had to laugh. Because what else can you do? Toddlers go through phases and biting is completely normal. There are many reasons that toddlers bite but most often, it’s a question of frustration. For two-year-olds, communicating is a challenge and when they bite, they’re often expressing anger or fear.

My son used to bite too. Fortunately, I’ve never heard of him biting other children at daycare, but he most certainly bit me and his father on a number of occasions. In his case, once he had been bitten a few times himself, I think he learned not to do it to others. He has often gotten upset with us and in a moment of anger, would bare his teeth like a vampire about to strike and then stop himself.

Like most behavioural issues for toddlers, this is a phase. And just as other kids will eventually learn that biting is not a good way to take out their frustration, my kid will have to learn about sharing and playing nicely.

The beauty of this situation is that two year old boys rarely hold a grudge for very long. By the end of the day, when I picked up my son, he and Buddy were playing very nicely together. But not without a little remnant of the day’s earlier incident, as Buddy looked up at me with a remorseful expression and my son held up his finger and announced “Buddy bite! Bobo!”

The next morning, the two hugged each other happily and all was forgotten. Now that’s love!

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

The Escape Artist

We have a problem. He’s figured out how to break free from his prison, aka the crib.

It all started innocently enough, or so it seemed. My son, soon to be two years old, has never been a great sleeper. Despite reading every book on the subject, despite trying numerous methods of sleep training (including letting him cry it out), he almost inevitably wakes up at least once during the night, sometimes more often. And he often, maybe 80% of the time, ends up sleeping in our bed.

For the past two years, I have gone through various phases of sleep deprivation, where I have gone from being determined to get him to sleep through the night in his crib at any cost…to resigning myself to sharing our bed with him. Anytime we would make some kind of progress, something would happen to set us back…vacation, sickness, etc… For awhile, my husband had some kind of magic touch, but my son soon decided he preferred to make mommy crazy than tolerate having daddy deal with him during the night.

Last week, I went in to his room for the now routine middle-of-the-night putting him back to bed. He tossed and turned in my arms for about 30 minutes until he looked at me, pointed at my bedroom door and proclaimed “Dodo mama bed” before squirming out of my arms, running into my bedroom and climbing into my bed. This happened twice last week.

On the weekend, I found myself feeling completely crazed from weeks of interrupted nights and after angrily tossing my son into my bed with the snoring and oblivious husband, I went to the basement and spent the next hour tossing and turning on the couch while I stewed. I vowed then and there that it was time to let my son cry it out the next night no matter what.

So I did.

But clearly I am no match for my son. At almost two years of age, he has the size and brute strength of a three-year-old. It only took about 10 minutes of hysterical crying and screaming for him to decide that it was time to jump the proverbial fence. Just as I was coming back into his room to check on him, I heard a huge bump. There he was, on the floor.

Once I determined that he was generally unharmed, aside from his bruised ego, I couldn’t help but laugh. He had outsmarted me once again.

I thought that maybe the fall would have been too scary for him to repeat the experience, but the little guy is persistent. He did it again last night. This time, I had padded the floor with extra blankets just in case, so the landing was softer but clearly his technique has improved and he is now officially a crib jumper.

So what the heck am I supposed to do now? I don’t think I can let him cry it out again. If I put a gate on his bedroom door, will I reinforce that his room is a prison? The only thing I think I can do is convert his crib into a daybed. Then he will no doubt escape on a nightly basis, but at least I won’t fear for his safety anymore.

Maybe it’s time I just resign myself to never sleeping again… However, I would appreciate any tips from parents out there who have similar “prison break” issues!

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Living in an ‘on demand’ world

Source: today.com via Christina on Pinterest

Happy New Year! Hope your holidays were as fun as mine. I think I’ve come to terms with the fact that the word “vacation” will not be synonymous with the word “restful” for a very long time. I took two weeks off from work, and between lots of family activities for Christmas and New Year’s, we kept our vacation pretty busy with play dates and social activities.

In our down time, we tried to enjoy the winter weather and play outside with our son, but it’s not terribly easy for an almost two-year old to navigate through piles of snow with a snowsuit on and all that other gear. So I will admit that we often plopped down in front of the TV just to keep him entertained when nothing else interested him. And I have to say that he’s getting pretty hooked.

I know, I know, you’re not supposed to let kids watch TV under the age of two. But I’ve never felt like that was realistic in today’s day and age. Sometimes, you need to let your kid veg in front of the TV for a short while so you can get things done without being interrupted. Let’s be honest – we’ve all done it. Also, since starting daycare, he has been sick a lot (as chronicled extensively in my last several blog posts). When your child is sick, TV becomes your best friend.

As such, my son has developed an obsession with two big celebs in the toddler world: Elmo and Mickey Mouse. I thank my lucky stars every day that Barney is no longer popular, or I would probably have lost my mind long ago. That being said, I’ve realized that it’s easy to feed this obsession. My son is a child of the PVR generation. Between watching videos on You Tube, on our iPad, DVDs, PVR’d and “on demand” episodes of his favourite shows, it’s all Elmo and Mickey, all the time.

When I hear those pleading whines for “Mickey, mickey, mickey!” or “Elmo, Elmo, Elmo!” it’s too easy for me to find my nearest device, call up an episode or clip of his choosing and his demand is satisfied. Tantrum averted.

In my day, we had to walk five miles in the snow to get to school! No, wait, that’s not right. Let me try that again. In my day, we had to wait until Saturday morning to watch cartoons! True, Sesame Street was on every day, but you had to wait to watch it on PBS at 10 am. My parents were not exactly the kind of tech geniuses who knew how to program the VCR to tape our shows. Even if they were, I’m pretty sure they would have laughed in my face if I had made that request.

Times sure have changed, folks. That crazy interweb has made it so easy to satisfy our demands instantly. When we want to know something, we just Google it. We have an iPad, we have WiFi… ta-da… instant gratification! Now my son just has to see our iPad and he automatically whines “Mickey iPad!”

So I can’t help but wonder – am I teaching my kid that he can have what he wants, when he wants it? Is that the way the world really works? I guess it is these days… What a change from our own upbringing when we only had a fraction of the toys and entertainment and had to find ways to entertain ourselves using our imaginations.

With every new app, website or technological advancement, we as adults are enchanted and captivated by all the really cool things we can now do. I mean, sometimes I think Songza must have been designed with exactly me in mind. And I’m not just talking about widgets and social networking – the most important thing on my tablet is my online banking app. It has simplified my life to no end.

I guess I feel like mixing children with technology is a bit of a double-edged sword. In some ways, I don’t see any value in keeping them from using it as it is a part of our daily lives. On the other hand, I hope that my son will always have a part of him that will be fuelled by his imagination. That he will always see two laundry baskets lined up in a row and automatically play with them as they’re a choo-choo train. His daycare educator assures me that he’s very creative and makes up all kinds of games to play with his friends, which I love. I just have to make sure that he never loses that creativity and that I don’t one day lose him to the TV / web / video games (or whatever else is invented in the not-too-distant future).

What do you think? Do our kids have it too easy, living in an “on demand” world? Do you limit how your children watch television or use technology?