Saturday, August 18, 2012

From the Trenches: August 18, 2012

Every once in a while in my parenting journey, I hit what I call a Sweet Spot.  Everyone is on a good manageable schedule, nursing is easy and calming instead of acrobatic and frustrating, and everyone plays together well so I can pay the bills and organize the new photo album.  While the girls finish off the last of their two predictable naps per day, I strap Devon in the booster and he "helps" while I make some Lime Bars with the fresh limes we brought home from the Farmer's Market last Saturday.  He asks to hold "one of the green boobies" and I look at the limes and laugh, contagious even though he has no idea why what he said was funny.

All moms know that the Sweet Spot doesn't last forever.  Every time I think I have a good schedule figured out, something changes.  This recent one impacted our family with all the force of a land mine.

Devon now sleeps in his Big Boy Bed.  We've been expecting this for quite a while, even hoping for it because it frees up the extra crib to move into Carrie and Melina's room.  We just didn't want to move him before we felt he was ready.  Every few months we'd reopen the issue, sneaking into his room several times at naptime and bedtime to see if he looked stable enough to handle the transition.

This just didn't seem to be the look of a boy ready to leave the safety of a crib.  At eighteen months, Devon slept with Pooh Bear and "Crimpiss Bear" under his arms, crawling from one end of the crib to the other with them in tow like he was doing a mud race.

This didn't either. We decided to wait a bit longer.  We took many rosy-lit photos of Devon's contorted sleeping positions in a dark room with the slow exposure setting on the camera.  Lest anyone think we put him to bed crazy early, this photo was taken near midnight.

By twenty-six months, I was dreading the transition just a bit, but that was silly.  Things that you worry about never seem to be as hard as you think they'll be.  Right?

Craig and I would go through Devon's nightly ritual of bath, sippy, toothbrush, two stories, song, and prayer, tucking him into his crib and turning off the light.  He'd offer me each of his toys in turn to kiss goodnight, and then his own cheek for an extra hug and kiss.  Then we'd listen from the living room to Devon as we were getting the girls ready for bed.  He would set all of his toys neatly in a huge circle around the perimeter of the crib.  Then, he would go around in a circle and speak in turn to Pooh Bear, Christmas Bear, Green Sweater Bear, Eeyore, Pull Horse, Kitten That Purrs, Tigger, and 90's Brocade Kitty.  When he had told them their stories and sung them their nonsense songs, he'd build a huge mound of all his stuffed animals, climb atop it, and fall asleep in a position reminiscent of a handstand.

By morning the mound had dissipated and Devon woke up happy, always content to play in his crib for a few more minutes if I was busy with the girls and couldn't come get to him right away.  When I reached for him, he'd bend like a gymnast, stretching his foot all the way up and over to the top bar.  It was obvious that he could climb out anytime he wanted to, but he didn't.

The only worrisome thing about the situation was that if there was something interesting to look at or  play with, Devon would play excitedly and refuse to fall asleep.  When Grammy and Grandpa were here we checked on him during his naptime to find out why we were hearing an unusual banging noise.  We found him cheerfully dismantling his New Baby Double Stroller that he had lassoed into reach and lifted up over the edge of his crib.  I looked into his tired eyes and removed the stroller from the crib one more time, and he was asleep in minutes.  It seemed to be a pattern.  Even when he was tiny, he never fell asleep unless he was alone and in his crib or carseat.  We worried that Devon needed the confinement to fall asleep and wouldn't be able to stay in bed and fall asleep by himself.

Last Saturday night Devon did something I haven't been able to do for him since he was nine months old.  Since he was feeling clingy, we rocked and sang in the rocking chair and fell asleep in my arms.  As I laid him down in his crib and he rolled over and sighed heavily, I wondered why he wouldn't let me do this more often.  I remember many three-hour evenings with a cranky or teething toddler.  I rocked him and held him and rocked him again only to get frustrated and put him in his crib for a minute so I could go get a drink of water.  By the time I returned he'd be sleeping peacefully.

Saturday was his last night in the crib.  On Sunday night, Craig and I were reading in the living room at 9:30 pm when we jumped at an unexpected thunk on the back of Devon's door.  The door opened, and Devon sauntered into the room.

"How are ya doing!"  he said, gesturing expansively and running to pick up Toots the Train that I hadn't yet put away for the night.

As Devon played, Craig and I debated what we should do.  We decided to put him back in his crib and pretend like nothing had happened.  We sat in the living room and held our breath as we listened to him cry for thirty seconds.  He stopped abruptly, and we waited a minute more.  We were just picking up our books when the door opened again and we knew that the crib was no longer a safe and protective place for our little boy to sleep.

While I took the bed rail out from under the bed and installed it, Craig explained to Devon about how big and smart he was and only just now capable of the honor of sleeping in a Big Boy Bed.  Craig and I took turns, sitting first in his bed and then on his Ball Chair as we waited for him to go to sleep.

Devon bounced around the bed like a wind-up mouse, telling himself stories and repeating phrases over and over as waited for him to go to sleep.  Every half hour, we'd trade off, until 11:45 pm when we finally experienced success.

Devon woke up the next morning feeling refreshed and puffed up at his new accomplishment.  I wish I could say the same.  As it turns out, lots of things in the night sound a lot like Devon falling out of bed, running into the living room and tripping over something in the low light, or letting himself out the triple-locked front door and running down the street in his pajamas.  As he slept the night away on his Trucks, Planes, and Trains sheets, Mommy was troubled by all the possibilities that this transition could eventually mean and popped out of bed to check on him frequently.

Devon got to choose a lunch destination to celebrate becoming a Big Boy.  He's still quite the cheap date, preferring the pizza and people-watching at Club of Sam.

He solemnly listened as I explained how Big Boys that sleep in beds also get to ride in the bottoms of carts, unlike little babies that have to be strapped in.  The girls enjoyed their squeezies and their seats beside each other.

Craig captioned this picture Power to the Two-Year-Olds.  There's something of the freedom fighter in the way Devon's closed fist is holding the spoon.  Of course, his new freedom meant that he fidgeted too much, fell backwards out of his seat, and dropped the ice cream, crying loudly enough (about the ice cream, not his sore bottom) to bring everyone in Sam's Club running to see if they could call EMS for us.

At around 3 pm., I carried sleeping babies into the house still strapped into their car seats, and then Devon with his head on my shoulder.

"I'm tired," he said, and it was music to my ears.  By then, so was I.  "I want sleeping in the Big Boy Bed."

That was the plan.  I tried EVERYTHING: lying in bed with him on me, lying beside him in bed, sitting on the edge of his bed with him lying in bed, sitting on the ball chair watching over him while telling him over and over to settle down and try to sleep.  He didn't.

I tried leaving him alone, closing his door behind him and hoping his natural preference for sleeping alone would kick in.  I popped in and out of his room like an unpleasant jack-in-the-box, annoyed at catching him in the act of dismantling his closet, climbing his bookshelves, taking the doors off his headboard, and bending his window blinds.

Three hours later, Craig was getting home from work, Devon's eyes were droopy from missing his much-needed nap, but he hadn't slept.  That's pretty much the story of my afternoons this week.
I miss my late afternoons that I've been accustomed to spend napping, focusing on the girls, and accomplishing things that are more easily done without kids underfoot.  I always considered it my "time off", even though I know that moms never really get a break.  I was always able to approach a late night grocery run to Walmart or a three-hour nursathon with a teething girl if I was able to rest a bit in the afternoons.

Our evenings this week usually began with Devon lying on one of us and trying to go to sleep only to startle every time we talk, move, or put him down.  We transition into a whiny dinner and then finish up with a cranky playtime which has to be heavily supervised to keep Devon from acting his frustrations out on the rest of the family.

By 8:30, his usual bedtime, I am ready to call it a night, but it's time for two or three more hours of looking in on Devon, finding him roaming around his room in the dark, and leading him back into bed.

I'm usually doing this with at least one girl on my hip.  This series of events has finally led to their room being finished with two cribs, but it has taken every bit of my attention.  Carrie and Melina may as well be in daycare for all the attention I've paid them this week.

 I've fed and changed them and set them up in the bouncers or in the pen, dashing away to see what new thing Devon has found to be upset about.  By nightfall they're ready for Mommy's undivided attention and settle in for long hours of "What about MY needs?"

I'm not giving up yet.   I'm determined to keep at it.  So far I have a two-pronged plan of attack:

1.  Work on developing the ability to sit still for reasonable periods of time.

Big Boy Devon doesn't watch TV, which is how many toddlers nowadays acquire the ability to sit still. It's great that he has so much energy, but all this pinballing from one activity to another is only good sometimes.  He just doesn't sit still unless he's strapped in a booster, stroller, or carseat.  He needs to learn enough self discipline to stay put with only a little age appropriate antsiness when he doesn't have anything restraining him.

If he can sit still, he can lie still.  If he can lie still even for a few moments, his tiredness takes over and he falls asleep.  That's my goal.

Enter Little Tikes Picnic Table.  I put it together as a surprise this week and all the kids love it.  If Devon fidgets too much he falls right off the back, but it's low enough to the ground that it won't hurt him.  We're having breakfast and lunch there, me sitting right by him repeating "sit down, sit down" like the guinea pig with the megaphone in the Geico commercial.  It's tiring, but it's what will hopefully produce results.

2. Take fun (and hopefully tiring) outings to keep us from obsessing.

This week we've played in the playhouse at the public library.  We've been to the store at the flimsiest excuse and gone to the neighborhood pool at 9 am when Devon climbed into my lap and begged to be allowed to go to sleep.

We've enjoyed a lunch date at a friend's house and run around the Kid Fit area at The Jungle Club all in the same day. Mommy tried not to imagine building Devon a little cage enclosure around his bed so he (and she) could finally get some rest.

It was the one afternoon all week that resulted in a nap.  I fell asleep before he did.  I got up from watching him just outside his room and stumbled like a drunkard to the couch where I passed out for an hour and a half.  When I woke up the sleep deprived buzzing in my head had receded a little and Devon was still napping.  I took a picture to text to Daddy at work.  I also told him that I didn't fear that one day my son would be captured by the enemy and forced to undergo sleep deprivation as an interrogation technique.  Devon is so good at staying strong after days of barely any sleep that he should probably be a secret agent.  I, on the other hand, am ready to tell anybody ANYTHING if I could Just. Get. Some. Sleep.

Tonight we took the wagon to the beach.

Can you find Devon in this picture?  He really enjoyed an hour of getting away from all the scrutiny and playing in the sand without Mommy hovering nearby.

 As any insomniac knows, if you stay home waiting to feel tired like the proverbial watched pot that never boils, you'll not sleep and drive yourself crazy.  We're taking every opportunity to get a change of scenery and make us tired, hoping that we'll reach equilibrium as soon as possible.

These outings are good for morale. Mommy is a real go-getter. When she sees a problem, she gets it in her crosshairs and develops a plan of attack. She is very sensitive about working hard on a solution and not achieving results because it makes her feel incompetent and inadequate.  I keep waiting for things to hit bottom and start improving, but they haven't.  It's probably going to be a while.

This is not my Problem, this is my CHILD.  This is not a power struggle where I'm pitted against him and waiting for my will to triumph over his. It's not a matter of him refusing to go to sleep.  He tells me several times a day how tired he is and how he could really fancy a nap in his Big Boy Bed, usually as he laps me on another run around the house.  He tries and tries and he just CAN'T do it. 

He misses the confined, protective safety of his crib that used to flip a switch in his brain that told him it was time to rest. One day he tested the boundaries and found that he really wasn't as confined as he thought he was, and he doesn't know what to do.  Now his sleeping world has widened to a 12x12 room and everything in it cries for his attention and won't let him be quiet even though his body is telling him to Just. Get. Some. Sleep.

"Poor little guy," I crooned as I held him on Thursday and we cried.  He had fallen asleep in his time-out chair (a.k.a. the stroller because, again, he's too jumpy to sit in a chair and I end up having to punish him for not taking his punishment, which doesn't really make sense to me).  I was afraid he'd get a stiff neck so I slowly and carefully tried to move him into bed.  As soon as I let go of him, he shot towards the ceiling like a piece of popcorn and ran off the bed and out into the living room.  Just as I feared, the five minute nap threw off his inner clock and he was unable to sleep for the rest of the day.  By five p.m. he was DONE.

So was I, frankly.

I've always suffered a tendency towards insomnia.  If I go a week with four hours or less sleep a night, I pass the point where I'm able to fall asleep. I enter a wired and hyper-productive state that won't let me come down and rest.  When I do sleep, I wake when someone needs me with unaccustomed feelings of anger boiling to the surface.  It's hard spending the day with myself when I've become a person I really don't enjoy.  My continuum of restfulness reads like this:

rested => tired => sleepy => exhausted => sleep deprived => ANGRY

It's eye opening and very, very humbling what a little sleep deprivation can do to a woman who thinks that she's totally selfless and she'd do anything for her kids.

Even if the kids are asleep before midnight I'm still too wide awake to go to bed.  I end up looking through pictures or blogging.  On Wednesday I kept my parents up past their bedtime asking for them to text me pictures.

They're in California.  That's three hours behind us.

Sounds like someone else we know, doesn't it?  Mommy and Devon are two peas in a pod.  He's probably inherited an insomniac personality from me.

We're going to get through this.  We're just having a really hard time right now.

It has cleared one thing up, though.  I've wondered for the past year and a half why God would choose the timeline of my family the way he did.  When I see the first symptoms of sibling jealousy creeping up I remember that most families by this time would be just welcoming their second child home from the hospital.  Sometimes I've wondered if it would've been better for everyone if that were the case.

Question asked and answered.

If I was alone with Devon at this age and two newborns right now, I would be a mess.  I'd get so little sleep I'd probably need to be hospitalized.  I'm so thankful that God knew that these next few weeks would come and chose to give me my babies early enough to enjoy them AND my sweet boy.  The lazy afternoons snoozing with two babies on my chest weren't as often as I would have liked, but now they would've been nonexistent. 

God sees.  God knows.  He'll show me how to handle this.  Lets repeat what I said earlier again.

We're going to get through this...

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Pictures, Before and After, 8-10-12

The evening light was perfect and we were prepared for the unexpected as we arrived at Humiston Park for our first big photoshoot as a family of five (seven if you count Grammy and Grandpa).  I've done a lot of thinking lately on the difference between realism and pessimism.  When you have so many little ones, it's really hard to get good pictures with everyone smiling, or even looking in the same direction.  If I aim for perfection, I end up frustrated in this and many other things in this season of my life.  It's okay to want things, but I also have to remember that stress is the difference between the reality and my expectations.  If my expectations are optimistic and yet flexible enough to leave room for a few hiccups, it seems to be a happy medium.

Our photographer, Kristin Schultz, is a mom and also a fellow blogger:

Just as I expected, I had to be flexible and spend the first ten minutes changing a dirty diaper instead of getting started immediately and taking full advantage of the perfect weather. It's amazing how flexibility and sense of humor can turn a small hiccup into serendipity.  If Craig and Devon hadn't wandered up to the boardwalk early to tell Kristin that we were on our way we wouldn't have gotten these perfect shots of Devon and Daddy.  Craig is smiling his Daddy smile, the one I first saw when he was holding newborn Devon in the chair at the hospital and looking up at me just over two years ago. 

Craig looks happy in our engagement photos and happy in our wedding shots but I didn't think they did justice to the joy he is capable of expressing like pictures of Daddy with his little boy.  I love everything about this picture.

Here are the pictures of two-year-old Devon.  There's the tiny chip missing from his front tooth from a collision with the edge of the bathtub when he was horsing around a month ago.

Those are the dark eyes he got from Mommy.

Those are the lashes he gets from Daddy.  Strangers still stop us in the grocery store so Devon can bat his eyes at them.

Here he is doing what he always loves to do at the beach.

There we are!  I could wish for a shot with all three kids smiling, but that's okay.  I've never looked skinnier (Body by ThreeToddlers, Inc.) and Craig and I have never been happier.

We have many more years ahead.  Soon they'll be old enough that I can bribe them with quarters to smile in pictures like my mom used to do.

Speaking of happy....

The miracle is not that Devon is smiling and looking so interested.  That's the way he always looks at the beach.  The miracle is that he is walking slowly and holding on to Grammy and Grandpa's hands.

At this point, Carrie was really into smiling for the camera, Devon was trying to figure out why we were all sitting so still, and Melina was contemplating the sand on her foot.

We sat the kids on the sand next to each other, took a few hasty steps back, and then ran to snatch them up again.  First, an unexpected wave splashed right up to them and almost drenched the kids.  Just when we thought we were safe and dry, a raindrop splashed onto Carrie's nose.  Then two more.  Then thousands.  We ran for our discarded shoes and the stairs back up to the boardwalk as Kristin stowed her camera with our precious pictures inside it.

I wish we had been able to take a few more shots of the ensuing hilarity, but it just wasn't possible.  Florida downpours are sudden, warm, and relentless.  Craig made it to the car in record time and had Melina in her car seat and the stroller stowed before I even made it up the slippery wooden stairs with Carrie.  Grammy and Grandpa tossed the picnic blanket over their heads with Devon between them and ran to the car in an absurd six-legged-race.  Three long minutes later I grabbed my dry iPhone out of the cup holder and tried to document the experience.

Craig' wet shirt...

My waterproof (hah!) mascara...

The sneaky smile on Devon's face.  In the commotion he made off with two of the toys that Kristin brought to make the kids smile: Ringing Bug and and Giggly Elmo.  All the way home Devon talked about "his new toys" as Elmo laughed maniacally in the background.  We didn't think we should tell him right then that he hadn't gained ownership of the toys like spoils to the victor and Kristin would be coming over tomorrow to finish taking pictures and get her toys back.

The hardest California rainstorm is still a light spritz compared to Florida rain.  It earns the term downpour because when it's over you feel like someone's just dumped a pitcher of warm water over your head.  When we got home we were still soaked.  Craig set up the tripod to capture an "after" photo so we'd always remember the day.  That's the one we're sending out with our Christmas card this year.

Just kidding.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Grammy and Grandpa, August 13, 2012

We make frequent trips to Orlando to pick visiting friends and family up at the airport, but I think this was the first one Devon really understood.  It's hard to explain long distance living to a toddler.  One day people come, later on they go.  It doesn't make any sense to someone who has yet to comprehend how very big the world is and how sometimes we have to live apart from those we love.

"Tomorrow we are going to the airport to pick up Grammy and Grandpa!" I said to him the night before.

"Talk A-Grammy?" Devon said, pointing to my iPhone.

"Grammy and Grandpa are coming to our house, Devon!"  He paused to think on this a moment, and the flush of recognition slowly spread across his face.  Perhaps he was thinking of Christmas, the last time we were all together.

"To o-UR  ho-USE!" he shouted, turning up the ends of every word like question marks in his excitement.  He ran a few energetic circles around, stopping to show me the guest bedroom where they would be sleeping, the basketball hoop where they would throw balls for him, and the stroller they would use to take him "swimming in the cool".

 We waited in the cell phone lot for an hour, long enough for a late afternoon Florida downpour to subside and lightning to move far enough away for the luggage to be safely unloaded.  The interior of our roomy van was starting to feel a bit cramped, with me hopping over the seats from middle to back to front again because I didn't want to open the door and get wet.  Bottles of water I brought for the travelers were emptied into sippies so the kids had something to do while they waited.

Devon kicked his legs in excitement as he saw Grammy and Grandpa swing their suitcases into the back of the van and climb into the car next to him.  There weren't many quiet minutes to contemplate the joy of finally being together.  In the Cracker Barrel on Semorran Drive they plunged headlong into the three toddler lifestyle, moving plates away from grabby fingers and spooning soft mashed carrots into hungry mouths.

Just like that, life got a little easier.  We're used to two adults and three children in our house, or what is commonly called "zone defense."  Normal means being outnumbered.  When the count shifts to four adults and three children, it shows.

Grammy sits by Devon as he eats his "cheevies and yorgitt", making sure he takes little bites and doesn't slop on the floor.

There are extra hands to push the strollers, so Mommy and Daddy hold hands on their nightly walk.

Grammy and Grandpa open their suitcases and lots of new things appear.  Devon, usually averse to anything touching his head, suddenly won't leave the house without his new Cars cap.

It helps that Grandpa always wears his cap, too.

When Devon grabs a comb and tries to comb his hair, Grandpa shows him how you have to remove your hat first.

Devon gets Big Boy Underwear!  The adults sit around in a semicircle as Devon sits on Froggy Potty, staring at him like the goose that lays the golden eggs.

The girls get new outfits!  Twins are just so much fun to dress.

Thanks to the new Bubble Puppy, Mommy can press a button and make bubbles while holding a girl with the other hand.

Melina isn't sure what to make of her first bubble time.

She soon decides she likes it.

Carrie and Melina get wonderful handmade blankets from a dear friend.  Before I graduated from college, started work, bought a house, and had three children, I really enjoyed quilting.  It means a lot to me when other people handmake things for my kids to enjoy now that I don't feel I can spare the time.

Grammy gets the kids hooked on 50's dance music on Pandora.

When the girls get sick, she holds them.

Grandpa puts together the girls' new wagon on their birthday.  It takes an hour and a half and two calls to the Radio Flyer hotline.

When he's not doing something with the kids, Grandpa is behind the video camera.  Devon climbs up into his lap and begs to watch the footage he's just captured.

That explains why Mommy's such a whiz with her camera phone.  Yep, it's all genetic.

We enjoy our favorite evening walk at the Jaycee beach boardwalk.

We watch some parasurfers and marvel again about actually living in a beach town.

It's so nice to have extra hands to hold the camera and take a picture.  So many times I am enjoying a perfect moment with my family and wish I had a spare hand to take a photo.

Or twelve.

Two weeks go very quickly in a house with three toddlers.  We go out to eat a few times on our last weekend together, remarking on how the kids have grown even in such a short time.

We talk, laugh, and enjoy our time together, even as the shared meal starts to feel a bit like The Last Supper.  Grammy and Grandpa have to go home.

The reality hit Devon hard this time.  We loaded the much thinner suitcases in the van and drove them to the airport.  Devon's usual bouncing good humor was periodically interrupted by pensive moments I rarely see in a toddler.  Devon watched as we unloaded at the Southwest gate and kissed goodbye, removing his shoes and pushing his hands into them.

As we pulled away from the curb, Devon's suspicions were confirmed.  "Grandpa!  Grandpa!" he called, clapping the shoes on his hands together and starting to cry.  I watch in the rear view mirror as my son, now just old enough to understand, discovers loss for the very first time.

He didn't wake up the next morning asking "Where did the Grammy go?  I don't know where the Grammy is!" like he usually does.  He gets it now.  We can't always be together.

It isn't any easier on the adults, none of whom are strangers to living apart from family. Years ago it was my mom looking forward to visits from my Grandma Meth.  She was the one being picked up from the airport bearing gifts, wisdom, and a pair of extra hands.  The two little girls in the picture were myself and my cousin Naomi.

We enjoy our times together, saving up pictures and memories to get us through long months apart.