Spring Break

We made it to Spring Break!  A few months back, we planned a 3 day getaway with our friends Matt and Alyssa and their littles, Layna (age 4) and Eyan (a few months younger than Silas).  We have never vacationed with non family people before, but it turns out they are our dream vacation partners.  I will admit a Springtime trip to the dunes was expected to be warmer and include a day at the beach and a hike up the sandy dunes with babies in tow, but I was not disappointed with how it all ended up, even if we capped out at five minutes on a very snowy, very frozen lakefront.

We got to Michigan City and spent about a half hour at the outlet mall (they don’t like shopping as much as we don’t like shopping), ate lunch and headed to the house at the stables we had rented for the time away.  What followed was a lot of transparent and cathartic conversation, good cheese, good (and cheap) wine, ice cream, snow, happy kids who actually slept, and parents who didn’t feel pressure to explain away cranky toddlers or a prolonged span of time wearing yoga pants.

So relaxing and really just what all of us needed, I think.  As we packed up this morning, the toddlers were having an increasingly hard time, so it was a good window for transitioning back to our routine.  I had contractions all the way home, as usual, and the boys both got naps in.  Tim is fighting off a cold and Si is just plain tuckered from traveling.

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Today marks the beginning of the celebration of my great aunt Mary’s life.  She passed away a few days ago and was such a sweet, joyful woman.  I’m happy Silas got to meet her and sad the next one will not, but her memory is a good one.  She was so loved!  Hugs to my family today and tomorrow.

How to Find Your Happy

There are a few lessons Tim and I seem to keep learning over and over again.  It’s not that we’re slow learners so much as we’re human, and part of human nature is such that some things are just very very hard to grasp for any length of time.

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One of these lessons is on being happy and what a happy life looks like for us.  I saw an image from a TED talk today about happiness and it really made me stop and prioritize my day.

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If you follow this blog, you know how I feel about that H word.  It’s elusive and forever looming like a dangling carrot for most of us.  My happy is nothing like your happy, and our family definition of happiness is way different than my personal definition.

Nevertheless, I love seeing reminders like this one about the now-ness of happiness in all its forms.  No matter the daily routine, it’s hard to remember that we’re in charge of how we feel and therefore how “happy” we are.  As I tell myself regularly these days, “today is what we have.”

But how do we create happier lives?  

It’s easier for me to attempt being intentionally content by focusing on part of my day rather than trying to muster some enthusiastic, happy vibe that lasts the whole day long.  I just don’t think that exists on most days for most people without serious medication or other mind altering activity.  In fact, I get kind of creeped out when people seem chipper all the time.  I know some people who attempt to find their happy by focusing on the moment or the hour, but I’m not zen enough for that.

I find I can have a whole series of crappy or difficult hours and still manage to have a good day.  If I focus on small goals throughout the day that make me feel fulfilled/productive/accomplished/relieved (or maybe just one if that’s all I can squeeze in), I feel good about life when my head hits the pillow at night and I feel happy and at peace.  So that’s what works for me by way of personal contentment.

Tim and I also have things we want to incorporate into our life together and that gets a little tricky, as any people in partnership will tell you.  It’s by no means easy to create an individually happy life, and adding another person to that (and then a few tiny people) makes for a challenging situation where the weeks and months fly by before you realize you’ve not done one thing that brings everyone joy for a very long time.  We’ve been together for four years.  We have not mastered this!  It’s a precarious undertaking.

We’re working on it, and our approach is split up into phases.  Phase One: get through winter (CHECK!), survive grad school, get into a groove with 2 under 2 with Tim working away from home.  Phase Two (and the real solution attempt):  create a weekly routine that incorporates the things we love to do together and commit to it.  Yeah, that committing-to-it thing is a real beast. It’s easy to let weekend traveling, last minute plans, and other interruptions usurp the commitment, but the sacrifice is pretty big.

We are in the process of making our routine for the warmer months, for example.  We always feel more alive and connected when we can get into nature, go to the farmers market, and encounter like-minded people.  Our spring/summer family routine will have those things as our weekend priorities since that’s the time we have to make those things happen.

As a couple who has traveled to see our families terribly frequently over the last few years (until we had Silas), I will say with confidence that the cap for us is one weekend a month out of routine.  Otherwise, we feel haggard from traveling, disconnected from where we live for not doing the things we love to do there, and just generally not happy with our family life.  Not worth it.

For us, designing our ideal week (with some flexibility built in, like “get outside” instead of “go hiking” or “go to the park”) and then sticking to it is the only way we know how to get that good mojo feeling of looking back over the month and feeling happy about what we did and how we spent our time together.  To us, that’s a happy family life.  I find that a little reflective hindsight is a great indicator of how “happy” my life is, which really means it’s a great indicator of how well I committed to the things I want my life to include.

T W O

The second lesson we’re learning repeatedly with each new job, experience, and adventure:  a “calling” isn’t one thing.  Tim spent the better part of a decade mentally obsessing over what his “calling” might be.  It was damaging, frustrating, and generally just not productive or satisfying.  There aren’t neon signs, there aren’t helpful or directive notes from higher powers, and the truth is there isn’t one single thing you’re meant to do with a concise label.  It took me almost three years to convince Tim that his calling is a series of attributes and passions that all intersect in different ways depending on the opportunity at hand.

The idea of a “calling” is misleading because it alludes to one right answer, which is something that not only limits our potential but also has a real tendency to make us feel like we are failing if we can’t figure out what the “right” answer is.  What if following our calling means doing the thing we enjoy so much that we lose track of time when we do it?  And what if it’s ok if that thing changes next week or next year or whenever we grow a little bit more?

As we get older, we try to give ourselves more wiggle room for exploring things that make us happy.  If we look at life as a constant learning process, our calling is a constantly shifting collection of the things that make us feel alive, useful and content.  But it requires letting go of the search for the “right” answer, and there’s the rub that we keep learning over and over again.

T H R E E

Lesson number three for the GB’s?  There’s a constant allure to the “grass is greener” mentality when it comes to being happy wherever we are.  Should you be able to be happy where you are?  On some level, yes.  But as people who have moved 16+ times each now, we also stick by the idea that it’s easier to be happier in some places than others.  Again–here’s the word “happy” and it comes up not only short, but a little contradictory.

For us, being happy where we are means working on being happy with ourselves emotionally and spiritually by working on our relationship and fostering our moral purpose.  Those are the inward bits of happiness that are definitely attainable anywhere.  Let’s be honest and say there are also outward components of happiness like having like-minded people, places that make us feel connected and alive, hills and nature that feed our souls, and a sense of community and socialization that give us a sense of belonging.  These are the things that arguably are not available everywhere we have lived, and they are things that we are finding really critical to feeling content with our week to week routine.

I love words, but sometimes language can be dreadfully limiting.  It makes very complex, human struggles seem like they should have simple solutions.  Words can do a huge disservice by creating unattainable and oversimplified ideals, and I think that’s the case with statements like “I want to be happy” or “I want to find my calling” or “I should be able to be happy wherever I am”.  It’s just not that simple.  But that doesn’t mean it isn’t attainable, which is the promise held in going beyond the word happy and getting down to the more important bits of what it really means to like your life.

16 Months

We have a sixteen month old.  Where does time go?  This guy is exponentially more hilarious than he was a month ago.  Check it out.

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Favorite foods:  blueberries, gorgonzola, uncured organic hot dogs (gross but true), cucumbers, broccoli, apples, graham crackers

Favorite things:  his Daddy, combing his wicked curly hair (luckily), brushing his teeth, finding bugs, dropping said bugs in the register and then crying because they are gone, chasing MamaCat while squealing at full throttle, playing outside (and heading for the street, hence the upcoming fence project), going to the park, playing with his afternoon kiddos, carrying his baby doll and kissing her, falling down on purpose and saying “ow”

New tricks:  picking his nose, throwing balls, putting lids on/off of any container he can find, hiding toys in boxes and containers and remembering where he put them if you ask for them, unscrewing twist of caps (hooray…not), marching, trying to take things apart and see how they work, getting on and off the pony by himself on occasion, climbing onto the couch, getting off the couch without bonking, singing really loud songs and clapping for himself when he’s finished, running at full speed ahead, babbling NON STOP all day long thanks to big kid influence in the afternoons.  Can’t understand a word.  Seriously.

New words:  “No no no!”, ball, bug (“duh”), baby (“dady”), cucumber (it has a lot of T’s in it and no C’s), ice (with a lisp), “ow”, “uh-oh!”, hair, eye, ear, “whoooa”.  I think it’s safe to say we have a nice handful of speech impediments in classic Garner kid style.  He really is so much like Oliver.  It’s scary sometimes.  And also wonderful because Oliver is curious and so smart and kind.  We’ll take one of those!  I think they’re both naturally geared for engineering of some kind.  Their brains are amazing!

We love you more each passing day, little big boy!

Whatcha doing?

We had the most glorious weekend spent mostly outside for the first time this Spring.  We spruced up the yard, Tim cleaned out the storage room attached to the back of the house, and I sorted through ALL of the baby clothes through size 2 which was about 10 totes full.  I have two giant totes of baby goods from Oliver and Si that are ready for their next home.  Sniff sniff

Rog and MK surprised us and came to visit Saturday afternoon, which was lovely!  It’s so nice to have unexpected help on the toddler front, especially when we get in over our heads with projects.  We went to the park and ate some fantastic Greek carryout.  Needless to say, we all slept like babies after the projects and fresh air.  Looking forward to more time in the yard in the coming weeks.  We’ve got some major projects coming up thanks to our parents.  Fence raising, power washing, deck staining, door painting, landscaping, and whatever else we can squeeze in with so much manpower at our disposal.

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Sunday we celebrated St. Patty’s with some Irish fare at 9 Irish Brothers.  The boys were dressed the part in their caps, including Si who finally fits into his patchwork cap from Honey and Poppy.  So cute.

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This week has been a little crazy, which seems par for the course these days.  I got a really sinus-y cold, my bambina is hanging out transverse breech just like Si did (boo), I had a rib out and had to make an SOS call to the chiropractor (who is just as prego as I am which made for very interesting adjusting), and today I wrapped up the excitement with my prenatal blood panel I’ve been dreading for months.  Tada!  All is well.

I’m a few days short of seven months pregnant.  Holy cow.  Little baby is growing and actually  measuring a week ahead, which is super.  I’m feeling fantastic during the day, contraction-y in the evening, and officially am in the hard-to-sleep phase of late pregnancy.  Two more months.  Can you even believe that?  I can’t.   I had Silas Peter at 38 weeks and I’m wrapping up my 30th week.  My palms are sweating.

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So, we have this new tactic for our weekly routine.  It has felt like therapy, chiro, midwife and pediatric appointments have been usurping our evenings and downtime for the last few months.  This week is our first week of doing ALL of our appointments on Wednesdays, which is anywhere from three to five now that I am in third trimester.  It’s a lot to fit in, but our hope is that it makes the other evenings feel more “normal” on the evenings that Tim commutes.  His grad work is delegated to Monday and Thursday nights, which has really helped the limited time at home feel more relaxing.  It helps that a lot of office hours are offered both early and late these days.

Got any tips for making the week seem less harried?   The truth is sometimes life is just hectic and I think we’re there.  It’s a lot going on for two more months until we have a newborn (again) and grad school is finished.

We’re a mere two days away from Tim’s 2 week Spring Break.  YAY!  We will mostly be doing projects around the house to wrap up everything we’ve neglected since November, but we planned a small getaway to the Dunes.  It’s going to snow.  Suuuuuper.  Good thing we’re going with people with whom we don’t mind being cooped up.

Loving It

What’s getting you through the last weeks of this memorably intense winter?

Here’s what we’re doing:

1.  Making pretty coffees at home with our decaf Bustelo and some good organic milk

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2.  Watching White Collar on Netflix (wrapping up season one)

3.  Opening the windows and doors when it’s above 60 degrees, including today!

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4.  Getting out the Spring stuff, decorating with plants, and burning candles

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5.  Continuing the pursuit of paring down our belongings, which is just in time for Spring Cleaning if you want to jump on board!  We just found Lasso the Moon’s blog post that talks about getting rid of 100 things in a weekend, so that’s the new game plan after finishing the Minimalist Challenge.  It’s much more approachable for a young family, I think, since we can devote a nap time to finding 50 things each to jettison out of our lives.  Done and done.  

Get Rid of 100 Things Weekend *I am so doing this with the kids

What are you guys up to?  Hope you’re enjoying the warm day before our next round of snow comes tomorrow.  I still love the snow, but I am ready for Springtime!

El Guapo

My family has this longstanding movie quote from The Three Amigos that we use with embarrassing frequency:  “We all have our El Guapos.  Yours just happens to be the real El Guapo…”    It is pertinent in a surprising number of conversations.

I love winter and snow and bundling up, but this one has gotten to me a little.  I’ve been maintaining my optimism by focusing on the park we can enjoy once the weather breaks.  Friday was so lovely and the lot of us (Tim plus me plus three kiddos) loaded up to go play for an hour at the end of the day.  It was marvelous to be outside in the sunshine!  The boys were running, the baby was babbling happily in the stroller, and I was having an alarming number of Braxton Hicks contractions.

They lasted a few hours until I went to bed (at 8pm, no less) and stopped once I was resting.  I had a few when I got out of bed the next morning, but then they went back to normal, which is having a few each day since the beginning of my second trimester.  My midwife isn’t freaked out and I keep hearing it’s more common with second pregnancies to have them throughout.  I carry two babies all day and do a lot of bending over and picking up at nap times, which is usually the trigger.  I make sure I’m drinking enough water and squatting when possible and then don’t freak out when my belly is tired and contracting by the evening time, especially with Tim gone.

In the last few weeks they have gotten more frequent (every time I am in the car or sitting at the dining room table) which makes me feel a little nervous about bed rest or an early baby.  Our first trip to the park solidified that worry and made me realize that hauling the stroller, two babies and a toddler to the park is probably not going to be in the cards for me until after I have this baby in two months.  I have a not too distant memory of this particular El Guapo, which is the reality that my body can’t grow a human and do the things my non pregnant self might be able to do.

As a larger issue, as usual, my El Guapo is disappointment.  I was really clinging to the ever approaching Springtime and park trips to keep me going and that’s not happening.  I feel large and awkward and not pretty (hello, third trimester) and now I am lacking an escape within walking distance.  Time to game plan the fence project and back yard ideas that will make it a place we want to be instead.  Thanks to my Mom for being such a game plan person and helping me get started with ideas to sidetrack me from being a hormonal, frustrated mess yesterday.

Tim’s current El Guapo is not feeling settled, which is a cyclic thing for him.  His life is split between two places, so it’s a natural consequence of the lifestyle even if it his routine at this point.  He also doesn’t feel settled because we don’t have much of a sense of community here.  We didn’t move here to find like minded people (we would have just stayed in Bloomington).  We moved here because we wanted to be closer to our families while our kids were babies, both for our sake and theirs.

Despite this, the lack of community connection is harder than we thought it would be, especially for Tim.  The way to find community is to have the discipline to commit to things, which isn’t a personality strength of his to begin with.  Add this to the difficulty of mustering extra energy to use for socializing when he has really limited time here for spending with Silas, doing grad work, or starting small projects. It just ain’t easy.

Feeling settled is such a precarious state, isn’t it?  It seems like we are always oscillating between transition mode and monotony.  When we are focused too much on what’s coming next (work, where we live, what we want), it’s hard to feel connected where we are.  When we are in transition, we long for the days when things are comfortable and we know what to expect, but when we get into that routine, it isn’t long before we feel the hum drum and start feeling the familiar unrest of wanting something else again. In a perfect world, the transitions are short and the monotony inspires quick and satisfying changes.  In real life, the bulk of our time is spent in one or the other, completely missing the window of long term contentment with where we are.

So what’s the answer?  Well, the answer we are going with today is to be disciplined enough to create community and to focus on the present moment (or two hour window before the next nap) and put everything else aside.  Life feels pretty hectic right now, but it’s what we have.  I am excited for Tim’s grad work to be drawing to a close so that he can feel like he has more time and energy to spend on things that make him feel connected and happy where we are instead of where we wish we were.

As it happens, he just finished painting the office.  Go, Timmy!  Nap time is starting, which is our cue to snuggle on the couch and watch White Collar while we fold two loads of clothes.  Hope you guys are wrapping up the weekend in a happy way.

Parenthood, Part II: Babies (eventually) sleep.

Obviously we’re heading into new baby territory again.  Combine that with the sweet siblings at our house in the afternoons, one of whom is a 6 month old with persnickety sleep patterns that are all too familiar, and suddenly my mind is filled with all the things I never knew about baby sleep and learned the hard way.  But let’s be honest and say any lessons that involve sleep deprived parents fall into the “hard way” category.  I’m still holding out for a great sleeper with this little girl I’m growing, but we’ll see.

After loads of research on baby brains, sleep/wake windows and cues, tons of trial and error, and a painstaking commitment to routine, we have a great sleeper.  Eventually your baby will sleep, even if it feels like he won’t.  We’ve so been there.  Here are some myths/facts about baby sleep that we’ve debunked (but again, babies are different–these may not hold true for yours, or they might be your saving grace).

1.  “Your baby has a hard time going down for naps/wakes up a lot at night/doesn’t sleep well when you travel?  Keep him up longer.”  

No, don’t.  Really.  At least not for our baby and most babies I have kept over the years.  This is an old school approach and you’ll know after trying it twice (by choice or by force of circumstance) whether or not this works for your bambino.  The inability to read sleep cues and get your baby to sleep in their happy go-to-sleep window will cause you nap and bed time grief and frustration for about four years.

Long story terribly short:  when kids are overtired, they get a second wind (cortisol rush) just like grown ups which makes it harder for their bodies to wind down until they crash, which is way past healthy tiredness and is bad for brain development.  This is my main issue with cosleeping since I never encountered a single nanny family  (out of seven families) where the parents were able to get their kids to sleep before the point of exhaustion.  I know two families who seem like they did it well and managed sleep cues and healthy tiredness, so it isn’t impossible if you go the coslept route.  Again, remember that you are choosing the work of sleep training (and it is definitely work) or the work of 3-4 years of naptime struggles.  Neither is easy.  Parenthood isn’t for sissies, but if you’re reading this, it’s too late now, bub.

Inevitably we run into the overtired baby problem when we travel.  When this happens we keep Si up an entire extra 2 hours.  It seems like he should go down anytime after his 2 hour window instead of keeping him up 4 whole hours, but it doesn’t work for him and it turns out that’s common for baby sleep cycles.  Trying to get him down before another entire wake/sleep cycle is finished results in crying, screaming, frustrating time for the entire family and never results in a good nap.

2.  He doesn’t seem tired to me.”

The one single best thing you can do to foster better sleep patterns is pay attention to sleep cues and make them the highest priority.  Some parents don’t like to do this because it admittedly means the errands/outings/plans take a back seat, which can be hard on the grown ups.  It’s not right or wrong–decide what your priorities are and go from there.  Depending on your parenting situation, sometimes the priorities are necessarily being in the car or on the run and that’s ok.  Sleep cues saved our sanity, and learning them is a great place to start if you’re feeling overwhelmed and nothing is working.

Si’s sleepy cues are subtle–he doesn’t get cranky, he doesn’t run into things or suddenly start getting hurt, he’s a happy kid with a few small tells like rubbing his nose or hair or chewing on his thumb.  A lot of kids rub their eyes.  The cue comes before the crankiness and meltdowns, which is where many parents miss the boat (I say from vast experiences of observation).  From lots of trial and error, we know that Silas’s first nap is (not quite) 2 hours after he wakes.  His second nap is 2 hours after his first nap.  Bedtime is 3 hours or so after his second nap.

When he has trouble going down to sleep when we travel, I get a lot of “oh, maybe he just needs one nap.”  No, he doesn’t need one nap.  When he has one nap, he has several night wakes instead of none and then is cranky the next day.  He’s not used to sleeping anywhere but his crib because I stay at home, and having a little stress being out of routine is normal, in my book.  I try to be flexible and make the best of it while still meeting his sleep needs, but Tim and I both find it pretty miserable to be on the road when it’s so easy at home these days.

Bottom line for Si’s sleep schedule:  there are 15 minute windows during which he goes to sleep happily and sleeps so well that he wakes up singing songs and chattering away nearly 2 hours later.  Life is good.  Once we miss “the window”, we have a baby who struggles to go down (for up to an hour, no joke), doesn’t sleep long enough (hello, 45 minute naps from our past), wakes up grumpy and stays that way until bedtime, and then has night waking, resulting in a vicious cycle that carries into the next day.  DON’T MISS YOUR WINDOW.  And don’t let people convince you that you don’t know what your kid needs.

3.  Your (insert number) month old should be sleeping through the night.  Give him/her cereal/a bath/(insert great idea here).”

Recent research tells us that sleep has much more to do with brain development than belly fullness in most cases.  Carb loading a 3 month old is not the best choice, even if it works sometimes and your grandmother did it, especially given that studies show how hard grains are for bellies to digest before at LEAST 6 months if not closer to a year.

Baths make many babies sleepy, but we finally figured out that baths wake Si up to the point that he can’t go to bed.  Turns out he needs about 2 hours after a bath to go to be ready to go to sleep happily, and now we use that to our advantage when his naps were a little early but we’re still trying to make it to 7pm for bedtime.  Knowledge is power, baby.

 4.  It’s not your fault. (or “If at first you don’t succeed, try something new.  And then learn to let it go.”)  

I spent the first six months (ok, nine) convinced that I was doing something wrong because I couldn’t get Silas on a loose up-for-2, down-for-2 schedule like I always imagined I would because that’s the natural pattern most babies adopt, in my experience.  My pediatrician at the time was a father of six and a wise, mellow man.  He said short napping is more a nature issue than a nurture issue, especially in the first year, and that one of his kids was wired that way while the other five were not.  I’ll be the first to admit that I thought I could expect 2 hour naps and no night wakes by six months into parenthood at the latest.  I was so wrong.  But it still wasn’t my fault, and it certainly wasn’t for lack of trying every tactic in the book.

5.  “Maybe you just need to let him cry.” or “Babies just cry, it’s fine.”

Ok.  Don’t ever say this to parents.  Regardless of how parents feel about crying it out as a sleep training method (which is a very hot topic on both ends), crying it out doesn’t work for all babies, which the previous generation seems hesitant to admit.  Babies communicate by crying and yes, sometimes they are crying because they’re exhausted and overstimulated from family gatherings.

Trust your gut and try to figure out what the baby needs because you know best what that is and how you prefer to handle it.  From the start, Silas was never a candidate for crying it out because he knew how to go to sleep.  He never cried going down for naps but always had a harder time getting to sleep at night regardless of where he was (swing, held, our room, his room–didn’t matter).  This isn’t typical, but when we started reading about sleep personalities, we realized it is more typical than we thought.

6.  Sleep training works.

It takes work, but it works.  In general, there are lots of sleep training methods (including no-cry solutions) and lots of resources to help if you decide to do it.  We tried cosleeping the first few months with Si next to our bed, but for us it was miserable.  It turns out he wakes up more when he is in the room with us, but I wanted him in there until the major SIDS risk was over. As soon as we moved him to his own room, he slept so much more soundly and so did we (like we slept 3-4 hours instead of an hour and forty five minutes between wakes…yee haw).

Something to keep in mind:  sleep development is delayed for babies who have sleep-affecting issues like colic or reflux issues, among others.  Silas had both and we found that it really affected his sleep patterns, which normalized closer to seven months instead of three or four months.  It can be frustrating and exhausting (I didn’t sleep six straight hours for at least 6 months and I admit I was about to lose my mind) but there are resources to help you if you’re in the thick of it.  We didn’t find them until Si was nine months old but our lives were literally changed within a week.

7.  Sleep begets sleep.

The longer Silas is awake, the shorter he naps.  The less he naps, the worse his night sleep is.  The first solution we tried after reading Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child was moving bedtime earlier and, miracle of miracles, within two nights, he’d wake at night a few times and go right back to sleep without crying or nursing or any grown up interaction.  We had been keeping him up too long after his second nap and he was overtired, resulting in restless sleep, crying at night, a harder time going back to sleep, and a not that happy baby in the morning.  Within a few weeks, he stopped waking at all at night except on rare occasion and it’s been that way ever since.  Four months!

8. Babies’ brains change a LOT at about a year old.  

You know what this means?  Even if you had a really crappy sleeper, it seems like a lot of baby sleep patterns normalize at about 12 months.  (And if you had a super sleeper, that might change a little for the worse.)  It seems like the naturally wired “good” sleepers normalize between 3 and 5 months while the harder sleep personalities normalize at 10 to 13 months.  If you’re trying and trying and it’s not working, learn more quickly than we did that you can’t choose when a baby wakes up.  But you CAN choose when they go down, and sometimes that changes when they wake up.  Get to the library!

Silas went from 4-6 night wakes and crappy 45 minute naps to 12-13 hours with no wakes at night and two 2 hour naps a day.  It was literally like a switch flipped in his brain and he started sleeping.  It took a month of the new schedule before we weren’t terrified that talking about baby sleep would jinx it.  That’s how desperate you are when you’re a parent of a bad sleeper–you actually fear the jinx.  Your baby will sleep, even if it seems like you will never sleep again.  I promise.

9. Build a baby-sleep-research arsenal

The things that totally changed the way we view baby sleep and instantaneously changed our lives as parents are the following three resources.  The first two are best read/watched before baby comes or as soon as possible (we found them at 9 and 12 months–bummer!).

The Happiest Baby on the Block:  The New Way to Calm Crying and Help Your Baby Sleep Longer (DVD)

This guy is instinctive and amazing.  He wrote a book by the same title, but watching the DVD is easier on dads and more helpful for learning techniques that seem odd but work instantly to stop a crying baby.  Even our crappy library had a copy, so yours probably does, too.

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Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child

This book changed our lives literally overnight.  I want to buy it for every couple that gets pregnant.  It is an easily digestible run down of all the progress in baby sleep research in the last few decades followed by step by step plans that are applicable to nearly every parenting style, from attachment to cry-it-out and everything in between.  If you only read one baby sleep book, this should be it.   If we had read this before Si was born, we would have had a much better plan in place from the start and it would have made a huge difference in our quality of life that first year of parenthood.

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The Baby Sleep Site

This site was founded by a mama of a hideous sleeper and as soon as I started reading her free email newsletter, I realized we had similar stories.  She is a cry-free sleep training pro and she’s understanding and proactive about healthy baby sleep.  We have learned so much from her free advice and troubleshooting guides.  If we had found her earlier (we found her at 9 months or so) we would have paid the $30 for a personalized sleep plan with one on one support from her.  Sleep training (especially no-cry sleep training) requires a vast amount of attentiveness, awareness, subtle schedule tweaking, and consistency.  It’s not easy, but she makes it so, so much easier.  She’s worth it.

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People don’t understand or remember how broken sleep affects normal life.  They say things like “Wow, he’s a terrible sleeper.”  “He has more sleep issues than any kid I’ve ever met.”  “Maybe you should try ______.”  Yeah, thanks.  Obviously we are loving being tired and frustrated with a baby who is also tired and frustrated.  If you’re in that phase (and I promise it’s a phase) know that we were there, too.  It gets better.  It gets SO much better.

If you made it this far, you deserve a present.  Thanks for hanging in there.

Parenthood, Part I: You’re doing a good job. I swear.

It’s so many things at the same time.  Hilariously entertaining, frequently disgusting, exhausting, grounding, constantly surprising…  It’s really such a remarkable experience to survive still smiling.

It seems like parenting can be a series of oops moments.  Our current predicament:  I caved and bought Silas P. some organic bunny grahams.  Needless to say he is in love.  I tend to shy away from food that isn’t nutritious in some way.  Graham crackers don’t fit the nutrition bill for me.  But I got them anyway.  Suddenly my stellar healthy eater who eats broccoli and black beans and bleu cheese wants only bunny crackers and raisins.   And it will be ok.  Clearly I get less worked up than I used to when I have a parenting dilemma.

Sometimes, in the thick of a new bad habit, parents second guess what their guts say and take all sorts of advice (we are included here) and sometimes it helps and sometimes it doesn’t.  It’s easy to feel like you’re always doing something wrong.  You’re not.  I promise. Take your fretting as reassurance that you care enough to make good decisions and that you are not failing your babe.

I only know two things about babies for certain:

1.  All babies are different.  Sometimes they are VERY different, and yet they’re all called babies like it’s supposed to mean something is supposed to hold constant and true for each of them.  You know your baby better than anyone else does.  Ask for help when you need it, ask for advice when you need it (I tend to call my mama, but call the person who will be honest with you when you’re too in-the-moment to be rational).

2.  People give advice and make observations about your parenting because they care about you (which by no means is to say that you should heed their words) OR because they don’t remember what it’s like over here in the messy bits where sleep deprivation, dirty hair and curious stains on everyone’s clothing are part of the norm.  It’s really hard (I say with a belt full of experience in this department), but taking advice and opinions personally is a recipe for parental misery.  Resist, friends.

The rest is a glorious chaos that requires surrender.  Yes, even for the type A’s among us.  These are the things I’m reminding myself as we gear up for round two.

Minimalist Challenge: Complete

I had doubts as to whether I’d be able to get rid of 406 items during the Minimalist Challenge from February.  You see, I love to get rid of things.  Maybe I like it too much.  I like cleared off surfaces, I like airy cabinets and closets that aren’t overflowing.  I like beds that have nothing but a little dust beneath them.  I don’t buy things we don’t need, so we don’t accumulate much.  Truthfully, clutter makes me feel gross and panicky and like I should be spending my time organizing or cleaning instead of relaxing and living.  Hence the holiday and birthday requests for gifts that are experiential or magazine subscriptions or college-fund contributions.  And yet we have so. much. stuff.

Since I already get rid of so many things if they’re not both practical and pretty, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to finish the whole challenge.  Much to my surprise, I not only finished the challenge but am more motivated than ever to go through our house and downsize the masses of things taking up space.   Yesterday, I went through the utensil drawers (again), kitchen linens, bookshelves, DVDs, and cleaning supplies.  It took me a total of 30 minutes and I have yet another huge pile of things to donate and sell.

Speaking of sell, let’s talk about craigslist.  If you’re considering doing the Minimalist Challenge, I totally encourage you to do it and to sell your bulkier items on craigslist.  In the last month we sold a double stroller, a crib, a stove, the shelves and brackets taken down from every room in our house, our old coffee table that kept getting moved around, a car seat, and all the old light fixtures that were in the garage.  We made about $700.  No joke.  How’s that for boosting a stay at home income?  We also have a handful of big items to sell yet and we will have a rummage to offload the rest once the weather finally breaks.  We had to buy a new stove and pay for a furnace repair this month, so it came at a good time.

I stalled after the second week of the challenge and felt overwhelmed by all of our stuff but at a loss for what to get rid of next.  I texted Sara, my sister in law, and she said “go through your kitchen utensils or your sock drawer!”  Good advice.  When in doubt, pick a small confined space full of small objects.  I’m really dreading sorting through the baby clothes since we have no fewer than 18 totes full in sizes newborn-5.  I need a pretty drink in my hand (ok, a smoothie will be fine) and some camaraderie for that venture.

I also ignored my entire skinny, not-that-skinny, and maternity wardrobes since I’m in no physical shape to throw out nice clothes that will eventually fit me again.  I got rid of all the size fours about a year ago.  I don’t plan on teaching pilates four times a week while living on coffee and Skittles ever again, so I’m pretty confident those will never go back on my butt and I’m ok with that.  If I do get back to a size four, I deserve to go shopping.  A lot.  Between my clothes and all the kid clothes, I could easily spend several hours getting rid of things at some point, which will feel super.

There are so many approaches to purging belongings.   My best tactic for assessing what to keep and what to pass on was asking myself if I’d pay to move that item again.  We had to have two small moving trucks to get here and we don’t want to repeat that experience.  It instantly helped to be like “heck no, not worth moving that again” and then feel good about adding it to the huge pile to donate.  I also got a real sense of meaning from thinking about our stuff going to someone who actually needs/wants/loves it.  It got to the point that it almost seemed selfish to keep things that weren’t bringing me joy.  For the more sentimental things, I tried to give them to someone who would love them as much as I did or someone who would use them more than I would.  It makes the parting less painful if you pass it on and know it’s bringing happy vibes wherever it goes.

As I continue on the decluttering rampage, I’m using the checklist from the blog called Keeper of the Home.  I tried going room by room, but it’s really daunting.  I ended up sitting on the floor and wasting a handful of precious naptimes wondering what to do with myself.  My next tactic was to cut the room in quarters and take that approach, but then I found the checklist and am doing that instead.  Because of the challenge, many of the checklist items were already complete, but I went back for a second look and was shocked at how much crap I kept the first time.  I can think of ten books right now that are on our pared down bookshelf that we will never read again.  If I didn’t have babies napping in every room, I’d get on that.

I honestly think I could come up with an entire second month’s worth of items to get out of this house.  That feels ridiculous and titillating at the same time.  Is that wrong?  “If getting rid of you is wrong, I don’t want to be right…”  Wait, that’s not how it goes.  But it does when I sing it in my head.   

Expected results of the challenge:  less clutter, cleaner living space with less effort, more room for the things we actually use and need access to, more options for rearranging furniture and using our space

Unexpected results of the challenge:  huge profit from selling our old things, three packed full station wagon loads of belongings donated to various places, a surprising desire to downsize even more thoroughly, not being able to remember what we got rid of (which affirms that it really needed to go, right?), regret about not taking pictures of the donation piles!