Reconsidering Our Bedtime Approach

When I got pregnant with Dez, I expected that it’d be easier than it had been the first time around because of all that I learned. And truly, I have experienced very few disadvantages in having my second child eight years after my first. Aside from the pregnancy being tougher due to being older, it has been easier for the most part.

There are some unique challenges to having kids so far apart, though. The biggest being that all the things I learned about being a parent were geared toward being a parent to Jack.

toddler

Jack, age 2.

I had eight years to get to know Jack very, very well. And over the years, I have gotten used to him and the way he works. And after all those years, it’s probably not much of a surprise that I went into parenting my second kid with what I will call “Jack-colored glasses.”

From the moment Dez was born, I couldn’t help but compare and contrast him to Jack. I wasn’t thinking in terms of better or worse; I simply made conclusions about Dez based on how his actions differed from Jack’s. And somewhere in those early days I got caught up in how different they seemed and couldn’t see beyond that.

On a recent night David and I had some time to talk before bed, which is very rare (Dave and I don’t see much of each other after 8pm, as you’ll read). We talked about Dez and the various things we’ve tried to make bedtime easier and reviewed how many things have totally failed. It was during this talk that it really hit me just how ALIKE my two kids really are. I’ve spent so much time thinking over the last two years about how different they seem, and not realizing that it’s only that they express the same issues differently. Ultimately they are both very sensitive little creatures with more emotion and personality than they know what to do with! Their behavior may look different, but it often comes from the same place.

With Jack, I was able to figure out by about 5 months that he needed a solid nighttime routine plus a dark, fairly quiet house. The bedtime routine became getting dressed for the next day, brushing teeth, reading three books, and cuddling a bit before saying goodnight. (For a while that happened in my bed, then he transitioned to his own bed around 2.5 years.)

Bedtime with Dez has been a mess from the start, though. Partly, I think, because instead of trying things that might work best for him, we tried things that we felt worked best for us. It seemed like a simple thing to have the new baby fit into our routine instead of rework how we did things. This was somewhat out of necessity, as Jack was still going through chemo when Dez was born, but we all had trouble adjusting to “normal life” even after the chemo stopped.

As time went by and a routine did not suddenly implement itself, David and I both started tearing our hair out over bedtime. We had many dark nights where we each just lasted as long as we could trying to get Dez to sleep.

At some point I finally went and did some re-reading of all kinds of parenting and bedtime advice. I thought about what I had done with Jack and what our parenting philosophy and goals are now, and I threw some ideas out at Dave. And somewhere in that mishmash of reading and talking and trying various things, we landed upon a couple of things that turned into some semblance a routine.

Thing 1: We must factor in time to wind down. It takes Dez a lot longer than Jack to wind down, which can mean 8 books instead of Jack’s 3. And that means Desmond’s bedtime routine can easily take 2+ hours. There is nothing we can do to make it go faster and if we try, it only makes the situation worse. (He’s stubborn just like the two of us!)

Thing 2: Both kids are noise-sensitive. Jack is unnerved by loud, unexpected noises (like garbage trucks) and avoids them, while Dez gets amped up. We tried a sound machine for a while, but it ended up just keeping him awake. Other noises in the house will also keep him awake, though! So, unfortunately, the rest of the house has to shut down at bedtime. All screens and lights go off at 8pm. The only “excitement” will be in Dez’s room.

Thing 3: Consistency is KEY. I put Jack to bed and David puts Dez to bed. EVERY NIGHT. Because if we don’t do the same thing every night, Dez will stretch things out waiting for the other parent to come in and “save” him, and that will just drag the whole thing out even longer.

These three things may not seem like game changers, but knowing them and acknowledging them has made things go more smoothly. Bedtime is still hard for us because, frankly, those 3 things kind of suck! Our evening (and any chance at couple time) is over by 8:30. No fun!

BUT so far there is less screaming from an overtired Dez, and that improvement alone is pretty awesome. It also makes a big difference for us to know that the bedtime routine will take a big chunk of time no matter what we do. I think once we stopped agonizing over how long it took and just went with it, we all felt calmer.

Hopefully things will improve even more as Dez gets more sleep, gets older, and has even more consistency from two clued-in parents.

We just need to remember that we are not perfect parents, and this surely will not be a linear process of improvement. But at least we can say we tried some things and they worked and this child isn’t a complete little troll who is trying to bend us to his will at every opportunity (probably).

In fact, he is quite sweet when he is well rested. He gives the best little kisses and loves to chant “click clack moo” and gives us pep talks complete with pats on the leg while we get him some grapes to eat! And he is full of great big belly laughs.

Toddler belly laughs

Little toddler, big belly laughs

Dez is full on adorable when he’s not screaming and refusing to sleep. And he absolutely deserves a bedtime routine that works for him, just like the rest of us.

And with that, I bid you all goodnight. I need to get some shut eye before he drags me into his bed before dawn and wraps his arms around my neck while breathing hot toddler breath in my face…

The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Sleeper

I have no idea what this kid needs from us. I am sure that we’re doing everything wrong, though.

It feels like we have tried everything to get him to have good sleep habits and yet…nearly every night involves screaming and kicking and throwing things and hours of time. Frustration and anger and tears and…youtube videos.

Yes…as a last resort, we are now regularly putting him to bed with youtube videos.

That is the wrong thing, I know. But what is the right thing for this child? Because we have tried everyfuckingthing and this seems to be the only thing that ends with him sleeping without us completely losing our minds in the process!

Even so, bedtime is a nightmare. We feel powerless. I personally get so dejected and angry when I finally leave the room (usually some time after 10pm). Hence, this blog post…

David takes on bedtime most nights now because it has taken a serious toll on my mental health. He fares better than I do, but he can’t do it every night. It wears a person down.

I want a toddler who sleeps through the night.

Still true.

It doesn’t end there, either. Dez sleeps for a couple of hours before waking and he will throw a gigantic hour+ long screaming fit if I don’t tend to him in the middle of the night. Sometimes we go the screaming route with Dave going in there while I try to ignore it and stay in bed and get some sleep through the noise. Other times, I take one for the team and head in there. We try to take turns because once we go in, we usually do not emerge again until morning.

The parent who goes in there gets a toddler velcro treatment. With me that means Dez scoots his face right up to mine, breathes his hot toddler breath on me, and locks his hands around my head. He falls asleep peacefully while I try to breathe air that isn’t coming out of his mouth and hope I can get back to sleep while locked in his embrace. All night long it’s a game of “shove the toddler over to get some space and a few independent winks” and “oh look here he is right in my face again.”

I probably don’t need to tell you that I don’t sleep well like this. I am pretty sure Dez is the only one on the planet who does!

And I haaaaaate it.

I keep trying to come at this sleep thing from different angles, try to analyze the situation and read tips and…nothing. Nothing helps. It looks like we will just have to get through it. Sigh.

This is not a request for sleep advice (and good lord, please do not email me trying to sell me something!), just an exasperated rant from a very tired mom.

Please let this child figure this sleep thing out. 2+ years of shitty sleep cannot be good for any of us.

The Terrible Toddler

Life with a toddler is full of surprises. Also, exhaustion.

A few days before Christmas (2015), at 15 months old, Dez took a few unassisted steps. He didn’t walk again until late February. At that point he spent about half his time lurching like a miniature Frankenstein’s monster and the other half of the time he crawled (or walked on his knees) at such a quick pace that he wore holes through the knees of his pants.

No joke!

This kid does things at his own weird, erratic pace.

Toddler loves Hendrix

Check out those baby blues!

He is now almost 20 months old and walking full time. He gets into EVERYTHING. He climbs onto the dining room chairs, tries to climb onto the table, opens the front door if we forget to lock it behind us, and attempts to throw all kinds of things into the toilet.

He is so active! We are so tired! Jack did not prepare us for this.

Desmond’s favorite past times are throwing balls, riding on his plastic tractor, eating constantly, removing his socks and making us put them back onto his feet, bossing the dog around, and endangering himself in some way.

Stairs are fun for toddlers.

Stairs are fun for toddlers. Less fun for parents.

He has eight teeth, and two molars are sloooooowly making an appearance.

Sleep is hard to come by in this house. I don’t believe that he’s slept through the night yet. (Yeah, you read that right – 20 months and has likely never slept through the night! Yes, I’m a little dead inside.) Since we co-sleep it’s mostly all a blur… He’s also still incredibly difficult to put to bed. We have started to use a sound machine at night in hopes of creating a more inviting sleep environment. Fingers crossed that it works and we start having easier bedtimes. We are pretty sick of tag-teaming to deal with hour-long tantrums at bedtime.

He’s also been fighting diaper changes for over a year now! Case in point:

Toddler tantrum

Diaper changes are the worst!

BUT! Just recently we discovered a show on Amazon Prime called Tumble Leaf.

TUMBLE LEAF IS MAGIC!

We turn Tumble Leaf on and Dez throws his arms straight up in the air and yells YAAAAAAY! He then lays down and stays still for a diaper change. It’s amazing! In fact, David told me that finding that show is my greatest life achievement. I think that illustrates just how awful the diaper change fights have been.

While Jack was speaking in sentences around this age, Dez has maybe 10 words (in English):

mama
daw (dog)
Jah (Jack)
tok (sock)
suu (shoe)
ball
hi
byebye
nigh-nigh
yay

Apparently, though, he knows some Cantonese, the first language of his daycare provider. It took us a while to catch on – he was telling us for months that he was hungry (“mum mum” in Cantonese means “want to eat”) and we had no idea. Chances are he can say a lot more than we understand.

Dez is cute and sweet when he is not driving us nuts. He loves to snuggle and nurse, sits on our laps to read a book or watch a show, and does goofy things like wearing his sunglasses on his forehead.

Toddler in sunglasses

Too cool to wear sunglasses properly.

Still, we wish he would sleep more.

It’s A Hard-Knock Life (For Us Parents)

I have a migraine right now and my hip is fucking killing me. I would love to go to bed – I don’t even care that it’s not even 9pm on a Friday – but I can’t go to bed because Dez is trying to go to sleep in said bed and my presence is not conducive to him falling asleep.

This is parenthood. Sleep is like vacation to me – better, even, because it requires much less planning (and yet is no less elusive at times).

David and I are involved in a tag team effort at bedtime these days. I nurse Dez, then David steps in when Dez decides maybe he doesn’t want to go to sleep and tries to make a break for it. Daddy means business, though, and when he walks in the room, Dez knows his attempts at delaying bedtime are doomed.

Being the parent of a toddler is hard. I had forgotten just how hard. I guess that’s what happens when you wait eight years to have a second child! This little person who is most definitely his own little person and yet can’t do a damned thing for himself yet (except stuff too many yogurt melts in his mouth at one time) can make you question your choices in life, your sanity, and your self-worth. I had forgotten, but now I remember: I do not like the toddler years, Sam-I-Am.

Frankly, the pre-teen years aren’t seeming to be much better at this point. I’ve been meaning to write about all kinds of Jack-related things but it’s a big ball of complexity that I barely want to think about. The shortish version is this – he has been diagnosed with ADHD, dyscalculia (a math learning disability), and anxiety brought on by medical-related experiences. And in a year he goes back for more testing because the neuropsychologist isn’t sure she was able to get him all figured out.

At nearly the same time that we got the diagnoses and the rest of the results of the neuropsych testing, things at school got particularly bad. Jack and his teacher are at complete odds. It’s partly Jack’s fault and partly the teacher’s fault, and both of them are less than flexible people. We are working on Jack’s behavior, though I think we (and the teacher!) will just have to accept that Jack will have some bad days.

Therapy has been successful, though, so that’s a plus. Yay! I’ll take all the victories I can get.

Back to Dez…he’s a weird little fellow. He’s no longer that magical unicorn baby. He is vocal and can be clingy and so very quirky. He took his first unassisted steps a few days before Christmas, and then hasn’t walked since. He just goes around walking on his knees (which are now quite callused). He doesn’t say much, either. He has some words but very few that are clear. That doesn’t stop him from chatting, though. He talks a LOT – just not in English.

He also doesn’t sleep for shit. He is a terrible, no good, very bad sleeper. I think he must have gotten it from David because Jack and I both excel at sleeping!

He is a great eater, though. He’s got Jack beat on that!

So clearly we’re living a hectic existence right now. I know it won’t last forever and one day I will look back and miss the moments where Jack helps his brother walk around the living room or Dez snuggles up to me for midnight nursing sessions…but right now I am dreaming of peace and quiet.

Fewer headaches and a massage would be lovely, too.

Keeping Your Toddler Busy When Traveling

Last week I hopped on a plane with my very active 13-month-old baby/toddler. Desmond and I took a 4.5 hour flight from San Francisco to Atlanta, just the two of us (well, and everyone else on the plane). We flew back home yesterday.

I will come out and say this for all to read – I was terrified to take this trip on my own. But that’s how most adventures in parenting start, right?

Airport baby wearing

Babywearing at the airport

To prepare, I scoured the internet for ideas for keeping small children occupied on airplanes. I found a lot of suggestions that work for kids over the age of 2 years – those kids that are less likely to eat the crayons or throw the blocks at other passengers. Dez is still not 100% accurate with putting food in his mouth – there is no way he would have luck drawing on a magnedoodle!

Having very little luck with my search on the internet, I proceeded to tear through my house looking for items that I wouldn’t normally let Dez play with but that also aren’t dangerous while supervised. I came up with quite a few things to put in my “forbidden items grab bag.” I then hit up my Facebook parenting groups to gather more ideas before heading to Target. (I came out spending way too much, but it was less than $100, which is kind of amazing for a trip to Target!)

In the end, I collected quite the mishmash of items to entertain my toddler on the plane. And thus I bring you tips for flying with a toddler (without losing your mind).

Ewokmama tips for flying with toddler

Ideas for Fun and/or “Forbidden” Items to Bring on the Plane:

  • a fun keychain with spare keys and a large paperclip attached
  • various expired membership cards
  • a bracelet
  • post-it notes
  • small, portable toys that are new to your toddler – we had Little People figurines, My Little Pony minis, a Little People clown car
  • a pill organizer filled with snacks
  • stickers
  • interactive books (i.e. a “slide & seek” book and Pat the Bunny)
  • a pack of playing cards from the $1 bin

My cell phone is the ultimate forbidden item, of course…so I also looked around the app store to find things that might appeal to a toddler. [Note: If your kiddo is closer to 2 years and above, Toca Boca makes some awesome apps.] The best app I found is called “Animal and Tool Picture Flashcards for Babies” by Open Solutions. It’s free and contains a mixture of animal photos and clip art pictures; when you tap on a picture, the app states the name of the animal and then plays a clip of the sound that animal makes.

That app was the best money I never spent! Dez LOVED it. Even aside from the animal pictures and sounds, he really enjoyed dancing to the background music. It came in handy in the hotel room later, as well.

A word of warning, though. Now that I’ve let Dez play with my cell phone, he is more demanding about it than ever. Still, it was worth it for peace of mind on the plane!

If I were to pick one item from the above list to suggest above all others (aside from the animal flashcards app), it would be the pill organizer filled with snacks. Dez thought it was great to point to the container he wanted me to pop open – over and over. The snacks were key! A well-fed kid is a happy kid!

Aside from items to schlep along with you onto a plane, here are a few more tips for flying with toddlers:

  • Opt for the window seat. Not only will your kid like the view, but you can use stranger anxiety to keep him from trying to make a run for it.
  • If you are flying with your child on your lap, upgrade to get extra legroom. You can let your kid stand up a bit or maybe even play on the floor (depending on how MUCH leg room there is). And in case of tantrums, flailing limbs are less likely to hit the seat in front of you.
  • Babywear through security.
  • Ask for an empty cup and/or water bottle for your kid to play with.
  • Make sure to nurse or give your child something to drink during take off and landing to help with eardrum pressure.

Hopefully these things will help you get through your trip without any meltdowns from your toddler OR YOU. If not and your kid has a tantrum, hang in there! And maybe buy your neighbor – and yourself – a drink to cope.

Moms and dads, what did I forget? What are your tricks for traveling with toddlers?