Monday, January 31, 2011

Extra, Extra! Jack Goes to Sleep By Himself!

I have really exciting news:  Jack has gone to sleep by himself in his room for the past two weeks!!  Okay, so it may not make the evening news, but if you have a child you've been putting to sleep every night since he was born, you realize what a big deal this is.  Here's how it happened:

Since Jack was born, we have put him to sleep by rocking him and then as he got older, by sitting or lying down with him in his bed until he went to sleep.  When Jack was about eight months old, he realized we were indeed still in the house and accessible while he was asleep in his crib at night, and he began waking periodically to cry for us.  So, after several months of making many, MANY trips to his room during the night to put him back to sleep, I finally put him in bed with us.  I was exhausted and willing to do anything to get some sleep.  After some time of Jack's getting in our bed every night around midnight, we decided this was not a temporary setup and bought a king-sized bed.  It turns out, I (and Jack) actually sleep better with him in our bed, because I don't feel like I have to keep one ear open to hear him if he calls from his room.  I don't think Jason feels quite the same way, but he tolerates it.  Jack is now almost three, and we've all been fairly content with his sleeping in his bed the first part of the night and getting in with us after we go to bed.
After the holidays this year however, Jack went through a period of time where he was not sleeping well at all.  He woke up a lot after being put to sleep, even before Jason and I had gone to bed.  This seriously hampered our typical relaxing evening on the couch together.  He had a series of preschool induced colds, which contributed to his not sleeping well and thrashing around in the bed at night, which seriously hampered his parents' sleep in addition to his own.  And I'm sure all the holiday hubub and disruption to his routine didn't help either.  This lead us to start thinking maybe it was time to up the ante in our expectations for night time behavior.  Maybe if he went to sleep by himself, he would stay asleep better (as all the experts claim.)  I starting thinking about how independent Jack had become the past several months, going to school and doing so many things by himself.  I thought maybe he was ready to put himself to sleep without the transition being too traumatic.  So...
Step 1 - Preparation:
We started talking about it.  I mentioned to Jack how big he was getting and how he could do so many things by himself now - put on clothes, use the potty, etcetera.  Then I said, "Another thing you're ready to do is go to sleep in your room all by yourself!"  I really did it up, making it sound like an exciting rite of passage instead of something scary and difficult.  To my surprise, I got buy-in from Jack.  He grinned from ear-to-ear about the idea of being such a big boy.
We also set up a digital picture frame by Jack's bed.  He picked out the pictures he wanted on it - some of him as a baby, our family and his grandparents.  This, I figured, might distract him from the fact that he was alone in his room until he fell asleep.
I bought a book called All By Myself, which shows the character, Little Critter, doing all sorts of things by himself and ends with him putting himself to bed after his Dad reads him a story.  We read it several nights at bed time before...
Step 2 -  The big night:
We talked it up again like it was a really cool big deal Jack was going to go to sleep by himself.  I was careful not to say the word "try."  We just acted like that was what was for sure going to happen that night.  By the way, I picked a Wednesday night, because Jack goes to school Monday and Wednesday, and I wanted him not to have to go to school the next day, in case this new bedtime "excitement" caused him not to sleep as well at first.
We did our normal bedtime routine.  Then, I told Jack I'd cuddle and watch his pictures with him for five minutes (which I normally did) but then I was going to kiss him goodnight and leave the room.  When I left, I reassured him I'd be right outside his room in the computer room.  I also said I'd be back to check on him in five minutes.  He seemed a little nervous when we got to the part of my leaving, but he also seemed really comforted by the fact that I'd be back to check on him.
Step 3 -  Checking back:
When I checked on him at five minutes, he was a little weepy.  I kissed him again and told him he was doing really well and that I'd be back to see if he was asleep in ten minutes.  At ten minutes, we did a repeat, and I said I'd be back in fifteen minutes.  When I went back at fifteen, he was sound asleep.
Over the next few nights, we did the same thing.  Sometimes, Jack would get a little nervous or upset, but he was never all-out crying.  The first few nights it did take him a little longer to fall asleep than usual, but after that, he actually seemed to fall asleep faster than when one of us was in the room.
Step 4 - Reinforcement:
Jason and I praised him a lot for staying in his bed.  I told his grandparents and friends about it in front of Jack to reinforce what a great thing this was.  He was so proud of himself.  It only took four or five nights before he was smiling when I kissed him and left the room, and I could hear him talking happily to himself before he fell asleep.  I've started cutting down on the check-ins, too.  Pretty soon, I figure we'll be to the point where I don't have to check in at all.

Why write about this?  Well, part of it is, as Simon Cowell would say, "self-indulgent nonsense."  I am simply very proud of myself for coming up with something that worked.  Also, though, I did want to provide some ideas for anyone else motivated to get their child to go to sleep on their own.  There are, however, two things I want to point out.
Number one:  I think the biggest reason this worked for us was timing.  We recognized that Jack was ready, since he has been becoming more independent lately.  I don't think the same procedure would have necessarily worked six months ago.  Also, we picked at time we could be consistent about it and devote attention to it - not during the holidays when everything's a little nuts.
Number two:  Just because this worked for us, doesn't mean it will work for you.  For instance, while the digital picture frame calms and reassures Jack so he can go to sleep, it might actually keep another child awake.  Jack also likes his door open.  I think hearing us in the house is a comfort for him, while that may be a distraction for another child who would do better with a closed door.  I put together how we were going to do this with ideas from various sources:  another parent's blog, an article on the Dr. Sears website and, of course, my knowledge of Jack's personality.  There is no one-size-fits-all procedure for getting your child to do anything.
In conclusion, we are thrilled that this transition is going so smoothly.  I anticipate that we will be even happier about it when the new baby gets here in a few weeks.  Jack is still getting in our bed around midnight every night, and that is okay for now - one thing at a time.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Judgement Day

A friend sent me the following article, asking for my take on it.  Read it, then read on:

First let me say, I wholeheartedly agree with the second to last paragraph, where she says, "My job is to do my best for my kids: to be the best mama I can be to them."  After all, isn't that what we're all trying to do?  Be the best parent we can, given our children and their unique personalities?  Create the best lives we can for our families, based on our given situations and the individual people, adults and children, within our families?
While, on the surface, the author says she's not here to judge people and talks a good game about people choosing to parent based on their individual circumstances, there seems to be some judgment underlying some of her statements.  Take this part, for example:

Natural birth is not something to “try for” and feel bad you couldn’t do. Our country needs to step up to the plate in educating women about the benefits of natural birth, and we need to help women actually do it – not just hear about it.

I don't know how it is in the rest of the country, but here in Austin, Texas, you'd be hard pressed NOT to be educated about the benefits of natural child birth.  It was something I strove for with the birth of my first son.  I did ask for an epidural at some point in there, only I didn't feel bad about it at all.  Here's the deal:  natural child birth is a wonderful thing.  It's something women have been doing since the dawn of reproduction.  If you did it, congratulations, I am duly impressed.  But here's another angle on it:  If we have this wonderful little low-risk thing called an epidural that will make something excruciating become a lot less painful, WHY THE HELL SHOULDN'T I USE IT??  Am I less of a woman or mother because I used pain medication?  Would you recommend someone having a limb amputated use nothing but whiskey and a stick to bite down on for anesthetic?  I'm not saying there's no reason to strive for natural child birth.  After all, with no pain meds, you are at no risk for side effects from them.  I'm just saying, you shouldn't be castigated if you decide you'd like a little something while your lady bits are being stretched from the size of a pea to the size of a watermelon.  By the way, here's something else women have been doing naturally since the dawn of reproduction:  dying in child birth.  Birthing centers and home births are all well and good.  I think it's great when people have their babies at home, actually.  I can completely see why you'd want to have all the comforts of home while you go through labor and delivery, and in a normal birth with no complications there's no reason you couldn't do just that.  I'd just like people to realize that hospitals are not all bad, either.  If there's a problem with the mother or baby (mom starts bleeding and won't stop or baby is in distress) they can have that kid outta there in under two minutes.  I know emergency c-sections and hemmoraging are rare, but so are side effects from epidurals.
In a perfect world, there would be some way to have a baby and get the best of both midwifery and modern obstetrics.  I'd love to have this next baby in a place they didn't take my blood pressure every thirty minutes and bother me to death when all I want to do is sleep.  I'd love to have the home-like environment of a birthing center and the nurturing personality and openness to alternative treatment of a midwife.  But I'd also love to have all of the advantages of modern science close by in case of emergency, oh yeah, and that epidural, too.  
Look, I wore my son in a sling until he was so heavy, I thought my shoulder would cave in.  The kid still sleeps with us in our king-size bed and probably will until he decides to get out of his own accord.  I drove myself to the edge of insanity trying to breast-feed him when he was born.  I sat on the floor and cried like someone died when the lactation consultant told me I needed to give him formula.  I wasn't making enough milk, though, so what's the other choice?  Let him starve?  I do still believe "breast is best," but I think today's formula isn't far behind.  And I don't believe you are dooming your child to a life of allergies and below average test scores if you give him formula  (which, by the way, is what I was lead to believe in all the literature I read and in the breast feeding class I attended.)  My advice?  Breast feed if you can.  It's cheaper, and more convenient than formula, and, in almost all situations, the perfect nutrition for your baby.  But if you've tried your best and you just can't,don't condemn yourself as a horrible mother.
Before Jack was born, I envisioned myself as the original earth mother.  I'd wear my uncircumsised son in a sling, breast feed him on demand and spend every waking and sleeping moment in close bodily contact with him.  Some of that worked out, and some of it didn't.  Here is what I learned:  no matter what your parenting philosophy is, your child is going to be born with his own philosophy, and it may not jive with yours.  And, you may think you want one thing before your child is born and completely change your mind once you actually have the real live baby in your arms.  In the end, I think it's best not to put yourself in one parenting camp or the other, as Mayim Bialik intimates in her statement about not labeling a person as one type of parent or the other.  You are not evil if you let your child sleep in your bed or if you don't.  You are not scarring your child by holding him all the time, or by putting him in a swing so you can have a few moments without a kid attached to your body.  You've got to work out what's right for your family, and the hard part is ignoring those people and internet articles that may judge you, however, surreptitiously.   It's easy to feel threatened and let the parenting opinions and practices of others undermine your confidence in your own.
It may be even harder, though, not to judge others yourself.  Because, if there is no one right way to parent, how do you know you're doing it right?  If you convince yourself your way is the right way and everyone else is doing it wrong, then you can feel smug and self satisfied knowing your children are going to be smarter, more empathetic and more well-adjusted than everyone else's, and there's a lot of comfort in that.  But if you acknowledge that everyone else who parents differently than you may also be "doing it right,"  you open up the window for self doubt.
So, while I support the gist of Mayim's post - non-judgment, non-labeling acceptance, I think she may be subconsciously judging people, all the while saying she isn't.  I mean, what exactly am I supposed to take away from "I believe that natural childbirth is a right and a privilege."  That sort of insinuates it's inherently better than anything else.  Plus, I'm not sure I want to trust her judgment anyway.  I mean, who breast feeds their child until they're two-and-a-half??  That's just plain weird.  And what nut wants to sleep on the floor on a thin, lumpy futon mattress, sacrificing a decent night's sleep for years?  What kind of Hollywood, neo-hippie-with-more-money-than-sense is she?  Oh wait, I'm judging again... damn.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The End is Nigh

So I am now, officially today, thirty-four weeks pregnant, and I am beginning to feel certifiably crazy.  After we got the Christmas decorations put away Saturday, I shifted into high gear getting things ready for the baby.  I pulled out Jack's baby clothes and the cradle sheets and washed everything.  I got the changing table set up in the office.  I even toted the baby swing downstairs and now can't find a good place to put it.  I didn't think the nesting would hit me like it did last time, but oh, did it!  I was running around yesterday like the baby could come out at any minute and demand a diaper change, a clean onesie and a ride in the swing. 
I was also kind of cranky for some reason.  Maybe it's the acid reflux I get every time I bend over or eat anything larger than a grape.  Maybe it's having to pee every fifteen minutes.  Or maybe I am just tired of having an increasingly hard time getting around as my belly gets bigger and bigger.  Whatever the reason, I was pissy, and it didn't help when I discovered our dog had tracked mud all over the carpet I just vacuumed.  I almost burst a blood vessel in my head when that happened.  Said dog was shuttled outside quickly, before I lost control and beat her, and I re-vacuumed with a fury, muttering expletives under my breath the whole time.  Turns out, ironically, the vacuuming was a good physical outlet for my anger, and I felt tired and much better afterward.
I keep telling myself to enjoy these last weeks, when the baby is still inside and easy to care for.  Yes, I have turned into a class A clutz, but no one is waking me up in the middle of the night to eat or change a diaper, so I should appreciate that, right?  I mean, yes I almost cut my thumb off with a paring knife a week ago, and yes, I drop almost everything I pick up at least once, but there are good things about this kiddo still being in the womb.  I remember the post-partum period with Jack, and it's not all roses and earth-mother bonding with the baby.  It's feeling more tired than you ever have in your life, it's feeling blobby and out of shape, it's having sore, bleeding lady parts, and it's all in the face of having a new tiny being in your life who needs you to do everything for it, no matter the hour.  This time, I'll be doing it with a three-year-old as well, and that's why I keep telling myself not to get too antsy about getting this baby out of me. 
But I'm allowed to complain a little, right?  I mean, it's gotten to the point now where it's impossible for me to get physically comfortable and the smallest hiccup in life might send me into an emotional tailspin ending in fuming expletives (i.e., the dog/mud incident) or a waterfall of tears (i.e., last night when I was lying down with Jack putting him to bed and he did a nosedive into my face, bruising my nose and clacking my teeth together so hard it gave me a headache for the rest of the evening.)  And, all this is in the face of no wine and limited caffeine, so yeah, occasionally I feel sorry for myself.  I'm just trying to keep the complaining in check, because things are gonna go how things go, so I may as well enjoy the ride.  After all, this is the last time I'll be pregnant, and it is truly an amazing act of nature to grow and birth an entire human being.  So, when I'm not busy whining about my symptoms, I am pretty f-ing amazed at the miracle going on inside me.