Adjusting Decorating Expectations to Meet Kids Where They Are

I love reading design blogs and fantasizing about having a Christmas tree with monotone ornament selection, a mantle filled with precious, lovely things, maybe even some snow globes sitting around.decorated christmas tree

In reality, I have three sons aged five and under. I don’t have ANYTHING breakable that I can leave lying about. My oldest is even old enough to have opinions and ideas about decor. What I’ve had to do is gradually let go of my expectations for what my holiday decorating should look like and learn to enjoy what it does look like.

I’ve always had a live Christmas tree, and I’ve gathered enough ornaments over the years to fill one with delightful balls and homemade treasures (like the painted macaroni on yarn my mom saved from when I was in kindergarten). But then, when my oldest kiddo was 18 months old, I realized a live tree in a giant bowl of water might not be the best fit for my family.

I had to choose between constant vigilance, a system of gates and barriers…or getting a different sort of tree. One that wouldn’t offer him a murky bowl of drinking water in which he could hide things like my cell phone or the remote. That was the year I let go of the live tree.

At that time, we put only soft ornaments on the bottom third of the tree and kept my precious ones up higher, out of his reach.

Each year since, my decorating has morphed until I’m left with construction paper chains, pipe cleaners dangling from the ceiling fan, and rubber decals on the windows.

This year, we tried forcing paperwhite bulbs in jars filled with wee toys, which was great fun for awhile until my two-year-old threw a jar across the room. So we let go of live plants for the time being.

I have my whole life to make my house look like a design blog at Christmastime. I have only a few precious years where my young sons delight in the magic of December. When my five-year-old lovingly colors a green stick figure on a scooter and begs to tape it to the wall above the mantle (where I’d rather hang a snowflake garland), I’ve learned to enjoy the drawing because he enjoys it so much.

This year, my older boys decorated our 3-foot high artificial tree themselves. Each day, it is undecorated and re-decorated numerous times. Sometimes there are socks on the tree. Sometimes I find cereal bars wedged in there. Usually it’s strung with clumps of felted animal ornaments for which I have no emotional attachment. But they sure do! What joy they find in picking just the right spot for each fox or llama.

The first night we put it up, my two year old stood back admiring the tilted, clumpy tree by the glow of the twinkle lights. He clapped his hands together and exclaimed, “We did it!”

My holiday decor doesn’t have a theme, usually looks a little shabby, and won’t ever make it into a catalogue. But I’ve come to enjoy it because to my small kiddos, our mess seems magical.

How have you shifted your decorating expectations since having kids? Leave us a comment to share your experience!

Coping with Teething

I thought by the time I had my third baby, I’d have everything figured out. You can feel free to laugh with me. I’m laughing at myself right now! But really, I thought that.

Currently, my 4-month-old is teething and also hitting a developmental growth spurt. I’ve been reading The Wonder Weeks just to help me figure out what’s going on with him, because of course I can’t remember from when the first two were babies. In addition to getting these teeth, he’s figuring out that “events” are related to one another. For instance, if he swats at his little sheep rattle, it makes a rattle sound.

This is big stuff to a tiny brain.

He’s also in that lovely distracted nursing stage where he pops off and slowly turns that big noggin of his around to stare and smile at whatever’s happening. Like maybe the sunlight shifted or I exhaled or something terribly distracting like that!

So all of this is happening at once until I find myself so painfully engorged, my armpits hurt and I can pump five ounces in as many minutes.

My third baby is a calm little dude, so when I say he’s been distraught about the teething piece, it’s really pretty tame in the grand scheme of my kids. The others…the others definitely let me know when they were uncomfortable.

My wee Oren just mainly chomps on his hand with an angry look on his face, but does spend some time wailing and whimpering in the evenings. I need to remember that even though he’s not going wild, he’s still hurting and could use some extra care. He’s already sprouted his bottom 2 teeth, so he’s definitely teething younger than my first two kids.

I’m not sure if I feel safe using my go-to remedies, but thankfully we see our pediatrician tomorrow and I can check in.

With the older two, here are the things that we tried:

  • Amber teething necklace. I feel sort of ambivilent about this one, though many moms swear by it. It’s really pretty, though! So we use it.
  • Frozen waffle to gnaw on.
  • Diluted clove oil. I only discovered this when my second was getting canines, and I wish I’d known about it sooner! This was the gold standard teething remedy at my house from then on.
  • Tylenol. I’ve got a lot of people to take care of. I am pretty excited about a safe, fast-acting remedy like this.
  • Extra nursing sessions.
  • Coffee. For mom, of course! Sleep is hard to come by during these times.

Other than that, we just sort of paced around with our whimpering babies and chanted, “This, too, shall pass.” And I know it does, because it did the other times. But whew! It’s tricky when you’re in it!

Do you have any go-to teething coping strategies? Leave us a comment to share your tricks!

Nursing Hunger: Fighting the Ravenous Feeling

Here’s what I ate for dinner a few weeks ago: about a quarter pound of meatloaf, a heaping helping of buttered noodles, some salad. Then, for dessert I had a huge bowl of popcorn, half a chocolate bar, a very large piece of cheese, an apple, and two scoops of peanut butter. And I found myself searching around the kitchen for something else to eatforks

I have Nursing Hunger. If you’ve ever nursed a baby, you know the hunger I describe. Like there is no bottom to my stomach and there aren’t enough things to put in my body. Ravenous. All the time.

Plus, I’m tandem nursing, so the nursing hunger is even crazier.

I know that tandem nursing means I should add about 700 calories per day to my diet. To some folks, that sounds insane. So much food! But 700 calories adds up very quickly and I just don’t feel like it’s taking the edge off.

I also know that I’m supposed to focus on healthy fats and protein while I’m in this life phase. Heck, I can’t even remember to drink water most of the time. How am I supposed to focus on eating well to calm the savage nursing hunger beast who lives inside my stomach?

When I can manage it, I snag some time on the weekend to make protein bites (basically unbaked peanut butter cookies) and pre-slice some veggies and cheese. I can’t often manage it, so I’ve been doing my best to buy pre-packaged snacks that stick to my ribs a little better.

So far, these are the fast snacks that have worked the best:

  • Go Chews from the MomMe Meals folks
  • Hummus with (ideally) sliced veggies but usually with pretzels
  • Cheese sticks
  • Spoons full of peanut butter, with or without apple slices
  • Handfuls of almonds
  • Full-fat yogurt with fruit. (2 kids ago I used to make my own yogurt! Can you imagine?)
  • Rolled up slices of deli meat. Bring on the deli meat!

A lot of days, I just wind up snacking on the goldfish crackers I’m doling out to my boys. Each day is a new chance to make better choices, though, right?

What are your go-to snacks for nursing hunger? Leave us a comment to share your tips!

Sending My Baby to Daycare

I went back to work when my first son was 6 weeks old. I was teaching at a university and the semester began when it began, so I left him at home with a nanny. He took a bottle just fine, voraciously drank anything we handed him.laptop and cell phone on desk

My second son never took a bottle. What a stinker! But he just never, ever did. By that point, I was working part-time from home as a freelance writer, so another nanny stayed with my boys upstairs and I’d have to stop what I was doing every few hours to nurse. It was disruptive and unproductive. At times, I felt like it was more frustrating than just not working at all. As soon as he turned a year old, I went back to teaching so I could get some work done outside the home.

Not sure what would happen with my third son and back to working from home, I arranged for a nanny to come to our house to take care of my wee babe and my toddler. (My first-born child is now in school all day! I can’t believe it.) I tried to ease back to work, but my sons pretend our basement office is an elevator and try as she might, our nanny just can’t keep a pair of boys quiet enough for me to conduct a research interview over the phone. Nobody could achieve such a thing without tranquilizers.

Things were confusing for my toddler–sometimes it’s ok to talk to me while I’m nursing the baby, but sometimes he needs to be quiet and play peacefully and not go in the elevator. Also, who was really in charge while Mommy was home but not available?

By the time Oren was 4 months old, I knew we needed another arrangement.

Since my third son is another eager bottle drinker and I need to work, even though it’s only 2 days per week, I sent the younger boys to daycare.

The first day, I agonized packing their bags. Would the baby miss me terribly? Should I sleep with his blanket under my pillow so it smelled like me? How many outfits should I pack? How many ounces of milk? I texted the daycare owner throughout the day.

When I came to pick the boys up, I got the following report: Oren only napped for 15 minutes, drank all of his milk, and his brother hit him in the head. So basically, just like a day at home!

I haven’t looked back since. In fact, I might have gleefully skipped home to my “elevator” after putting the biggest brother on the bus this morning. My boys are all off in places where they are being lovingly, attentively cared for out of my earshot. I’m home in my office working peacefully, and then we’re reunited and our typical chaos ensues.

I will concede that pumping every two hours is pretty annoying, but of course my child needs to eat and now that I have my hands-free pumping bra it’s barely disruptive. What a wonderful feeling, to know I’m able to continue working, my sons are taken care of, and my youngest is still drinking milk biologically designed just for him.

I give daycare an A+.

Have you sent your breastfed baby to daycare and loved it? Leave a comment to share your story.

Caffeine: A Tandem Nurser’s Love Affair

My mother is a big-time coffee drinker. This has always been true, since she was a little girl. Her grandmother used to give her “coffee milk,” which was basically a splash of coffee in a glass of milk. She’s been drinking multiple cups per day ever since. 

I remember when my mother drank caffeinated . . . → Read More: Caffeine: A Tandem Nurser’s Love Affair

Becoming a Milk Donor: An Update

A few months ago, I blogged about signing up to donate my breastmilk to a milk bank. Since then, I’ve been slowly squirreling away extra milk. I’m up to 75 ounces in my neighbors’ deep freeze. 

Does that seem as strange to you as it does to my family? They were a little taken . . . → Read More: Becoming a Milk Donor: An Update

Staying Hydrated While Nursing

Ever since I got pregnant with my second child, I’ve done a poor job of remembering to hydrate. Even as I type this, the back of my throat feels a bit dry! What is it about parenting young children that just sucks up all my concentration until I don’t even remember to drink water?

. . . → Read More: Staying Hydrated While Nursing