Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Managing Expectations

What's the fastest thing on earth? The three day weekend. I had such high hopes and big plans for what I would accomplish this Memorial Day weekend, but, like the best laid schemes of mice and men....I was feeling on and off sick, Mike worked on Saturday, it was too hot to be outside with the little ones, and so forth and so on. I always think I'm going to get more done than is actually possible. But this weekend, I got even less done than usual.

We did, however, spend some quality time together as a family, and I am thankful for that.

I did not start the project of remodeling the bedroom that is currently my husband's and mine into the girls' shared room. I did not putty, caulk, and put a second coat of paint on the new porch handrails. I did not do all the laundry, mop the floors, or reorient the area rug in the living room. I did try to convince myself that all that not doing is OK. It is, right?

I did do a lot of vacuuming, so there's that. I hung the fire extinguisher back up, finally getting it off the kitchen table after we took it and its hook thingy down to paint the basement hallway. I got Mike to start taking some of the pictures I want to use in what will be my pretty new blog banner. Mike cooked turkey burgers and turkey dogs on the grill and that was a joy to behold (and eat). And Mike and I went out to dinner alone. I did think, at one point, that I was going to throw up in the bathroom at the Olive Garden, but fortunately it passed. And then I could not stop eating. It was like I hadn't eaten in weeks. Then I felt better. Ah, food. (No, I'm not pregnant!) Oh, Mike and I also watched the penultimate episode of this season of Game of Thrones. "Blackwater." It was awesome! And we didn't even have to go to work the next morning.

So, the weekend passed without any big time checking off of the list. But it also passed pleasantly and in great company. Summer seems to be officially here. There will be time, there will be time. A hundred visions and revisions, indeed. During the in between time, I will manage my expectations and continue to daydream. And ask Mike to continue cooking on the grill.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Sleep is for the Happy and the Healthy

And that is why I am cranky and crappy today. It was a rough overnight and morning for the female 3/4 of the team. Sleep has been our greatest challenge with child rearing so far.

When my 4 year old, Finlay, was a baby, she would only sleep in our bed. I was so tired that I was willing to do anything, so, though I am not philosophically against co-sleeping, I brought her in the bed against my better judgment. I knew it would be the start of a hard-to-break habit. At around 9 months, we crib trained her. It was a difficult time. Parents, you know what I'm talking about. But we did it. When Fin had just turned 3, right before her sister was born, we transferred her to a big girl bed. It went surprisingly well. And then her sister was born and turned everything on its head.

Evangeline was born about 18 months ago, one month and 5 days after her big sister's third birthday. She was a pill from the get-go.

A rare photo of new baby Evvie actually asleep. This is in the hospital. How things changed.

This baby WOULD NOT SLEEP. I didn't think it was possible for a baby to be awake all the time, but Evvie proved me wrong. I loved her, but she was hard to like during those first few months. There were quite a few moments when I wondered what the straw would be that would cause my mental or physical breakdown. She also cried all the time, so I wasn't sleeping and was constantly trying to soothe a crying baby. Mike couldn't take time off from work. We also had to be good parents to Fin. It was really, really a rough time.

We tried a lot of different approaches to getting Ev to sleep. The crib. Forget it. Co-sleeping. She hated it. The play yard. Nope. The swing, the bouncy seat, vibration, music, womb sounds, carrying her, singing to her, swaddling, sleep sacks... nothing worked. Finally we discovered that keeping her in the car seat worked a little bit. For six months I didn't sleep in my own bed. I slept on the couch (when I was able to sleep) and waited for the howling to start. Words cannot describe the Tired.

At the time, Evvie's crib was in the same room as Fin's big girl bed. But because Evvie wouldn't sleep and cried so much, we moved the crib into our room so Fin wouldn't be disturbed. It's still in our room, 18 months later.

Here is a more representative picture of Evvie during the first few months:

During this time, two major things happened with Finlay. 1. She developed a need for someone to be in her bed with her in order to fall asleep. 2. She started stuttering.

Mike would put Fin to bed every night, since I had my hands full of Ev, and read her a story, all cozy with her in the twin bed. And then he would fall asleep with her. He was exhausted too. It's hard to be in a bed and not fall asleep when you are dead on your feet. Fin got used to that routine.

The stuttering started out with speech disfluencies here and there and evolved over four months or so into a dramatic inability for Fin to speak. She was sticking her hands in her mouth as if to pull the words out. She was straining her face. She was choosing not to speak. It was utterly heartbreaking and frightening. She had been a precocious speaker who had mastered complex sentences before she was 2. This change knocked the wind out of everyone. We sought help and took her to a speech therapist regularly (Mynde Siperstein at ChatterMatters -- fantastic). Now at 4 1/2, she has quite fluent speech with occasional "bumpies." She never chooses not to speak. She talks a blue streak! It's wonderful. We believe, based on research and expert opinion, that since she hasn't fully grown out of the stuttering she will always have to deal with it. But, it is not nearly as profound as it was and we have the tools to manage it. More on stuttering in future posts. Early intervention is key!

I returned to work full time after a 13 week maternity leave. Evvie was still not sleeping well and was a very cranky, demanding baby. Looking back, I'm not sure how I survived. It's a blur. There needs to be more resources for new mothers. The only positive is that recalling those first few months has made it easier to accept our decision to stop at two kids! I can't imagine going through that exhaustion again.

Soon after going back to work, I had a desperate conversation with Evvie's doctor about how I knew something was wrong with her. I had been saying that for months and was told she was just colicky. She had a different personality than Fin. But I persisted. I knew this was not normal behavior for a baby. And I wasn't sure how much longer I could go on without sleep. Evvie was diagnosed, rightly, with acid reflux. She was put on ranitidine. Within a week there was marked improvement. Oh, had I mentioned the spitting up??? Finally, she was sleeping more, eating more, and keeping it down. And she was crying less.

But she was still sleeping in her car seat. And Fin still needed to have someone in her bed to fall asleep.

Evvie asleep in her car seat:

Mike and I knew we needed help. So, we made an appointment with a sleep therapist: Dr. Jean Twomey. I'll elaborate on that experience in a future post, but as a result of our visits, Evvie now goes down by 8 p.m., sleeps in her crib, and sleeps through the night 90% of the time. We breathed a sigh of relief heard round the world.

Once Ev's sleep situation was sorted out, I went back to tucking Fin in bed at night. You see, Mike goes to bed around 7:30 at night so he can wake up by 4 a.m. Now he puts Evvie in the crib and then gets in bed himself. That leaves Fin and me to ourselves, which is great for bonding, but not so great for getting stuff done at night or having time to one's self. Despite the better sleep conditions, by the time I get in bed with Fin at night to read books, I'm dog tired. And she still needs me to lie down with her until she falls asleep. Sometimes it takes her a little while to fall asleep. But not me. I lie down in her bed next to her warm, cuddly little self and I am gone-zo. So now, I have been sleeping in Fin's bed unless she falls asleep quickly or I wake up in the middle of the night with enough oomph to crawl out and get in my own bed. It's a problem. There's another appointment with Dr. Twomey in our future. We're also hopeful that putting the girls back together in a bedroom will give Fin the company she needs to sleep on her own.

Last night, Fin asked if she could sleep in her "tent" downstairs in the living room. She had put our two Pottery Barn Kids Anywhere Chairs together with a blanket draped over the tops. I said yes for two reasons. I thought she would probably give up on it very quickly and just come upstairs for bed, but if she didn't, it might be a good way to break the pattern of needing to have someone in her bed. I got in my own big girl bed with my husband (OK, there is also a baby in the room, so it's not as exciting as it sounds) and waited to hear Fin cry or come upstairs. She had already cried before I went upstairs because she was afraid of the dark. Mind you, she is the one who turned the lights off.

I waited until 10:30, half asleep, then went downstairs to find her asleep under the blanket tent, sweating like crazy. I pulled the blanket down and went back upstairs. Two hours later, she was crying again and heading up the stairs. She got in her bed crying, asked me to stay with her, and then we slept for two hours until Evvie woke up crying at 2:30 a.m. She's been sick and not eating or drinking as much as usual, so I made her a bottle and gave it to her in the crib. (I know, I know. But she was hungry. What was a mommy to do?) She handed the bottle to me when she was done and I brushed her teeth. I did. I swear. Then I got back in MY bed. Blissful sleep until Evvie woke up at 6:45 in a total snit.

When she has a big fit, she thrashes her body and makes a sound like Donald Duck. It was full on Donald this morning. Our whole routine was completely derailed. So, after a night of in and out and up and down, I started the day with an angry baby uber-meltdown. I was late for work. Ironically, today was the first day in 4 days that she didn't have a fever. Maybe she was pissed about having been sick for 4 days. Who knows? She screamed, thrashed, and clung until her sister came downstairs.

Thankfully, they love each other, enjoy each other, play nice together most of the time, and just light up around each other. Their sisterhood fills me with pride, joy, and gratitude. And fortunately, coffee fills me with manufactured energy to face the workday.


At the end of the day, no matter what, looking at those two faces puts a smile on mine. :)

Monday, May 21, 2012


The clock moves in double time on Sundays for my husband and me. It is the only day of the week we have to spend together. Mike is an independent contractor (he sells bread for BIMBO Bakeries, which owns Arnold bread) and he works Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. He doesn't get those things I take for granted from the workplace: sick time, vacation time, benefits, etc. (That means I provide those things for us, making my job very important to our family.) We haven't taken a vacation since our honeymoon six years ago. It's a grind. It's a challenge. But we'll always have Sundays. We toyed with naming our second daughter Sunday. It's an important day for us. That does mean, however, that there is a lot of pressure on us to make each Sunday all it can be. We try to pack in quality time with the kids, chores, some sort of project, and couple time (which usually includes ending the day sitting together on the love seat watching some good TV -- Game of Thrones!). I love the Boromir meme, "One does not simply be productive on Sunday." Find it here: http://www.quickmeme.com/meme/367oqn/

(Yes, I am a geek. I love Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones -- including the books; I devoured all five, -- Star Wars, etc.)

This Sunday wasn't as productive as I would have liked because my 18 month old has been sick with a sore throat and persistently high fever. We get the results of the strep culture today. Poor little peanut. The kiddos are priority #1. I did, however, put the first coat of paint on the railings of our front entry that my 73 year old dad built for me. I'll be detailing that project in a separate post. I didn't get painting until 6 p.m., so only the first coat went on. But it already looks great and has polished and woken up my dull porch. I hesitate to call it a porch; it's really just more of a set of cement stairs with an overhang. But I'm going to make it the best darn set of cement stairs and overhang around! It's a work in progress.

I should confess that every Sunday my girls go to my mother-in-law's house to stay overnight. That is a luxury for which I am extremely grateful. It gives Mike and me time to get stuff done without having to worry about the little one climbing the stairs, falling down the stairs, eating rocks, drinking the toilet water, etc., or feeling bad because her big sister wants to play Candy Land, soccer, make cards, bake something, etc. It is a kids' fantasy land at Grammy Steph's (and Grampy Tom's). They get to bond and Mike and I get to bond as well as accomplish something on the long list of to do's. Plus, we can wake up on Monday morning and get ready for work without also getting the whole troop ready. Like I said, it's a luxury. It's also a part of what is keeping our marriage strong. A marriage without face time is a cold, grey institution.

Here is a picture of my now 4 year old daughter Fin in the backyard wonderland that is Grammy Steph's house, including her own play cottage. That doorbell actually works. She has it rough over there!

It may also help to explain that because Mike is a "bread man" and because his truck route begins in a warehouse about 60 miles away from our house in another state (Massachusetts), that he has to go to bed early and is out of the house by 5 a.m. latest each work day. When I get up with the kids, he is already gone. So, I fly solo in the mornings. It's like a whole day of work before a whole day of work. Props to single parents. He also gets home earlier than I do, though, and is able to pick the kids up from Grammie's house before I get home. And he gets to be with the girls all day on Wednesdays. I get a ride to and from work from him and the girls on Wednesdays as well, which is awesome. In terms of managing the demands put on us by work and kids, our schedule is quite handy. In terms of spending time together, however, it doesn't allow for much togetherness. Again, Sundays, very important.

So, thus begins another work week. I work at a university and we are approaching Commencement weekend, which is a busy time. After Memorial Day, we begin summer hours, which means I have to be at work a half hour earlier, but I get out an hour earlier too. I cannot express how much getting out at 4 p.m. versus 5 p.m. increases the quality of my family's life. It's only an hour, but the breathing room it creates in the evening is so awesome. I LOVE summer hours, almost as much as my husband does. The extra hour in the evening is a noticeable tension reliever for everyone.

On Memorial Day weekend, Mike and I will have two days in a row with each other! He gets Memorial Day and Labor Day off. These are the only guaranteed two days in a row we have with each other during the year. My plan is to complete the railing painting and begin working on the girls' new shared room. Details to follow. Have a great week!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Daydreams to Sweet Dreams

I do a lot of daydreaming. But with purpose! I'm the fiercest daydreamer around. I want to turn all my daydreams into reality. It isn't always easy. I'm juggling a lot: two young daughters, a husband, a full time job, and an extremely limited budget. But I'm determined to make the most out of what I have, including problem solving skills, fire in my belly, belief that I can do anything I set my mind to (especially with help), and the three most important reasons in the world to make the best out of life: my husband Mike and my daughters Finlay and Evangeline. We are a team. I am the captain (don't let my husband tell you otherwise, not that he would). Hopefully, I will lead with as much wisdom, resiliency, good humor, perseverance, and inspiration as I can muster. My goals are to raise happy, healthy girls, maintain a strong marriage, create a fabulous home and yard, and still give it my all in the workplace. Balance isn't a catchword for the modern woman for no reason, that's for sure. I'll do my best do document my experiences with DIY home and landscape improvement (be warned: I'm a complete novice), parenting, partnering, and walking the life/work tightrope. From daydreams to practice to success to sweet dreams, this blog will try to capture the trials, errors, and triumphs of a mommy trying to live the life of her dreams and give her family the things that are really important from the moment they wake up until I tuck them in at night. I welcome you to join us. Here's hoping we all have sweet dreams.
 The family that dresses up for Halloween together, stays together!