Thursday, September 18, 2014

Sleep training. Yeah, you read that right...

A few days ago I bought a Groupon for two months of unlimited yoga at a studio near my house. They have 6 a.m. classes every day which might seem like information a sleep lover like me could simply ignore, but it's actually the main reason I bought the darn thing. Trying to squeeze a workout in any other time of day has proven to be pretty unlikely. If I want to make exercise a habit, I need a schedule I can stick to.

I'm hoping this early-bird-gets-the-worm business is it.

But now that I want to get up early, I have to get to sleep on time. Which wouldn't be a problem (I looooove going to sleep) except that in order for Bill and I to have a little grown up time each night, we have to wait out the kids. And they aren't in any hurry to hit the sack.

See, we have ourselves a bit of a bedtime situation here. It's not good. And now that I don't want to work around it anymore, it's becoming a real problem.

We never sleep trained Finn. I know, I know...he's not trainable. But you know what I mean. We never worked out the whole going to bed thing. We've just jumped from one bad habit to another for the past four years and slept with one eye open so when he comes in our room in the middle of the night, we're ready for him.

It started with colic. Months and months of screaming and nursing and rocking and crying and not even thinking about a sleep schedule because of the loud ringing in our ears at all hours of the day and night and OMG HOW DID WE SURVIVE THAT???

After that was...I don't even know. We had a colic hangover or something. It was like we still had a newborn and were in that survival stage where you do anything that works as long as it works and when it stops working you stumble around in the dark whimpering until something else clicks and you try that for a while.

I honestly CAN NOT remember how we ever got that sweet child to sleep.

I know exactly what I did with Liam. What time he woke up in the night to nurse. How old he was when we moved him from our room to his crib. How long it was until he was sleeping through the night. When I first let him cry it out so he could get himself to sleep. How many hours he slept at night. When he liked to nap. All of it.

With Finn it's one big blur. I mean, really. ALL OF IT. I only know that by the time he learned to crawl out of his crib (something Liam never did) we were like, "Oh crap. We haven't taught him how to fall asleep on his own yet! What do we do now???"

Four years later, we're still in survival mode.

We've laid with Finn until he fell asleep a million times.

We've locked him in his room and let him cry it out for HOURS until he finally passed out on the floor.

We've given him drinks and snacks and whatever else he asked for in the middle of the night so he wouldn't cry so loud he'd wake up Liam.

We've moved a little closer to the door each night as he tried to fall asleep hoping eventually we'd be out of the room and he'd go to sleep happily on his own.

We've bribed, yelled, screamed, cried, rocked, shushed and begged.

We've talked about it a LOT.

We've gotten into good routines and bad, had successes (or, at least what felt like successes...) and failures.

But we've never, not one time, read Finn a few stories, kissed him goodnight, turned off the light, and left the room not expecting to see him again til morning.

Not once.

He's four, you guys. Is this crazy? It feels crazy...

I think most nights we just sort of do what we need to do (either hope he falls asleep while we're reading - he doesn't nap so he's usually pretty tired - or lay with him until he goes to sleep). So long as we still get a bit of time for ourselves and a good night's sleep (totally possible now that he stopped waking up for a drink at 2 a.m.!), we don't worry about it too much.

But when something comes up that makes me need him to stay in bed once I put him there - like a super early wake up call or friends coming over after bedtime - I realize just how dysfunctional our little situation really is.

Because it's not just Finn. He takes the early shift in the bedtime debacle, sucking up our evening hang time, but Liam works all night. We must have billed bedtime as special alone time years ago because he's pretty sure he's entitled to as much one-on-one with himself as he can squeeze in between the time he goes to bed and whenever the sun comes up. He reads and thinks and draws and writes and listens to audio books lays around not sleeping for I have no idea how long. He's like a nocturnal Renaissance man. Which is great. Mostly. Except when Finn interrupts him? He's not a happy camper. Plus, our bedrooms share a door and it's happened one too many times that we thought he was asleep and he busted in on our naked alone time.

Not good.

It just kinda feels like we have hardly any time without kids. And now if I want to get up early every day...something's gotta give.

The trouble is, we have no idea what to do. How do you correct a bedtime situation you've been stringing along for years? When one child won't listen to you or stay in bed and the other one can't sleep until he's good and ready?

I wish I had the answer. Maybe soon I will. So far I'm only finding out what doesn't work. Yelling, like I did last night, doesn't work at all. Not for one bit of it. Jury's still out on whether or not adding a second night like was a win. At the time I felt like I had just discovered the missing ingredient. Like, "Oh my gosh, Finn must just be scared of the dark! And Liam could probably use a bit more light for reading. How silly of me not to think of it before. This little light of mine is going to solve everything!"

We practiced going to bed and staying in bed earlier today and then, with the nightlight, I went into bedtime tonight feeling really pretty good.

I felt even more optimistic after I finished reading, kissed Finn goodnight and left the room.

He hadn't asked me for a snack or rolled onto the ground or started yelling, "No!" to nothing in particular. He wasn't following me out the door or jumping up to go to the bathroom. He hadn't picked a fight about wanting yellow juice even though he knows he's not allowed juice before bed.

He was just laying in bed. Quietly. Almost looking as if he might fall asleep.

Liam wasn't even reading. He caught the fever Finn had a few days ago so he was much more subdued than usual. He wasn't exactly interacting with Finn like I keep hoping he will (a little encouragement from a big brother goes a long way) but he wasn't complaining about him either. He was just laying there quietly, looking as if he might drop off to sleep.

The whole thing felt very primed for success.

But before I even made it back to the living room Finn needed to find his baby owl and dug through the toy boxes until he did. And then he had to pee again. Then Bill got home from a dinner meeting and laid with the boys for a few minutes. Then Finn needed to tell me something. Then Liam said the light was keeping him up so Bill turned it off.

The whole thing would have felt like a huge bust except every time Finn got out of bed, he went straight back to his room and shut the door. He may have even climbed in bed for all I know! Eventually it got so quiet I have to believe both boys are asleep.

It wasn't a perfect night or exactly what I had hoped for (I have bizarre expectations sometimes) but it didn't really interfere with our grown up time. And since I started bedtime at 7:00, it won't make a dent in my early morning either. Plus, I already worked out a solution with Liam where he won't bug us at night if we let him stay up as late as he wants.

I can live with that.

It makes me wonder if the situation is really as bad as it seems. Maybe it's my reaction to the situation that's really the problem. What if, instead of getting angry when Finn gets out of bed, I just address him like I normally would and go back to whatever it is I'm doing like I did tonight? If I don't react to the situation will it stop being "a problem"?

Or might it really stop being a problem? Like if we start letting Finn have his bedtime his way, will he eventually get comfortable enough that he'll be able to just lay quietly and fall asleep? I actually kind of think that might happen. Like if we make time for "sleep training" and give it the attention it deserves, we might be able to get into a really good habit.

Which means I'll probably be able to get into a good habit, too! Finn will be sleeping, I will be exercising... this is starting to feel like a major turnaround!

(I really hope so...)

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Character type.

Now that Finn is in playschool, Liam and I have two days each week to really focus on homeschooling. Most of what he does at home (math, spelling, typing, coding via Minecraft, etc) is self-directed so I don't have to help him. But, as I discovered yesterday, being with him while he works definitely has its advantages.

We were sitting at the kitchen table when he realized he couldn't finish his typing lesson until he passed a 60 second timed test. For how freaked out he was, you would have thought the test required him to let Finn clip his fingernails.

The kid was trippin.

"Just try it, bud," I said. "You'll probably do fine. Sixty seconds is a lot longer than it sounds. Trust me. I've played Candy Crush."

So he tried. Sort of. He got about four words in and then started to hyperventilate and cry, "I can't do it! I can't do it!" while skulking down in his chair and staring, terrified, at the little digital clock on his screen.

I was shocked.

It's one thing to get performance anxiety (that level in Candy Crush is hard) but it's quite another to give away your power out of fear. I stared at him, mouth hanging open, mind racing, as he let a stupid machine torture him for a full sixty seconds.

When it finally ended and he stopped looking like a beaten puppy all I could think to say was, "What was that?! Liam! What the heck just happened?"

"I can't do it!" he cried. "I can't do it with the clock!"

He was so distraught, I could hardly believe it. I mean, really. I had no idea what to say. So I sent him out to the trampoline to bounce it out of his system. Then I googled some stuff, took a few deep breaths and walked out to join him, reminding myself, "Don't be a jerk. Don't be a jerk. Don't be a jerk..."

When I got out there I threw all the armchair psychology I could at him, hoping something would stick. I told him he'd never be able to do anything he didn't believe he could do. I encouraged him to get out of his own way. I begged him not to give away his power away so easily. I told him that things can only bother you if you let them and that most things that happen "to us" have nothing to do with us at all. (I used the "mommy wars" and my refusal to participate as an example - I swear he thought I was making the whole thing up!) I told him it didn't matter AT ALL if he never learned to type but he could not go through life sabotaging himself like this.

"You have to change your story," I said, bouncing up and down. "You've told yourself you can't perform under pressure and now here you are finding another way to prove you're right. Change the story! Tell yourself a new truth! Prove to yourself you can do this!"

He was skeptical but we were getting sweaty so we came back in the house and he tried the test again. And again. And again. He was less hysterical but still too scared to actually focus.

"Liam, I really don't understand what you're afraid of," I said as kindly as I could. "It's just a dumb computer. That timer can't hurt you if you don't let it. Shoot, it can't even hurt you if you DO! I mean, really - what's the worst that can happen?"

"I don't pass the test?" he said, skeptically.

"Okaaaay," I said, nodding. "Then what?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, what's the worst thing that can happen if you don't pass the test?"

"Um...I have to take it again?"

"Yeah. You have to take it again. And what happens if you pass?"

"Um...I guess I move on to the next lesson?"

"Yeah. Which is what? More typing?"


"So, does it really matter if you pass or not? I mean, either way you're typing letters."

"That's true."

"Just think of this as practice. One minute of practice..."

He tried a few more times but was not making much progress. We decided it was best to take a break for lunch and after trying my hardest not to beat the dead horse, I brought the conversation back around to the test.

"I actually can't believe how scared you are of the clock," I said. "I've seen you go up against things that are way more powerful than a free online typing test and you were never this scared."

"Like what?"

"I mean, the ocean for one. It's actually WAY more powerful than you are. Like, worst case scenario? I don't even want to think about what would happen. But you're super brave at the ocean."

"Yeah," he said, taking a bite. Then he got really excited. "Mama, imagine if this computer had legs and tried to do what I do at Kole Kole beach. It would be like bzfftz pzssfff... and totally crash!"

"Oh yeah," I said, happy to hear things turning around. "You are WAY more powerful than this computer."

"Totally," he said smiling. "There's no way this thing could do what I do."

"So why would you give it your power just because someone programmed it to have a timer?"

He got quiet and then said very seriously, "I have absolutely no idea."

And just like that I could see the rewrite beginning to happen.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Soccer mom.

Finn's soccer season started and it turns out it's the cutest thing ever.

1. He wears shin guards and cleats and has already found his jock stance.

2. His buddy Coen is on his team (and so is a friend from school!).

3. He looks like he actually knows how to play soccer like, half the time! The other half? Precious.

4. His team is called the GREEN GIRAFFES and every kid on his team is the kind of cute you just want to gobble up.

First game is on Saturday. This soccer mom cannot wait!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The artist formerly known as Finn.

Recently the boys started an art and music class once a week. It is the first time they’ve taken a class together and, I have to say, it might be the greatest thing that’s ever happened EVER.

And I'm not just talking about the two hours of uninterrupted me time which is ahhhhhmazing.

It's so fun for me to hear about a class from two different points of view. And since I'm used to Liam's less-than-detailed responses to, "How was your day?" (good, fine, hard to say, not sure, etc), I feel like I'm finally getting a glimpse into the kids' school experience outside the home. Finn has told us all about Bluegrass and Beethoven, sang us a song about five groovy buttons, and filled every blank piece of paper he can get his hands on with a masterpiece.

I think he's really found his stride as an artist. There's no end to this kid's creative energy! He just draws and draws and draws. Or paints and paints and paints. Basically whatever medium is in front of him becomes his obsession.

AND, as if that wasn’t cool enough, he's even become interested in writing!

We were at dinner one night and Finn wanted to write his name at the top of his coloring page like Liam did. I looked up from my watermelon salad and saw Liam teaching him how. “Do a straight line down and then two across for your F. Yep, like that. Now an I is just a line down with a little dot on the top. Perfect. Now two little mountains for Ns. You did it! Finny! You wrote your name!”

Now Finn just writes his name. Like, no big deal, I got this.

But what’s even cooler than that? Now that he knows letters make words he wants to write all the words. He’s constantly asking me how to spell things and when I write them down, he copies them. They're not always in the right order and sometimes it looks more like cuneiform than actual words or letters but HE'S WRITING!!!

“Mama, how do I write Princess Leia?”

“How do I spell Earth?”

“How do you write YOUR name?”

It’s amazing. It didn’t feel like reading or writing were on this guy's horizon at all and yet, here we are. It’s incredible to witness kids acquire new skills. They all do it their own way, in their own time. Sometimes you just have to be near enough to help (or applaud) when they’re ready. Or get a big brother to pass the baton at exactly the right time.

Monday, September 1, 2014

There's no place like home.

Coming home from vacation is often the worst part of the trip. You have to say goodbye to a dreamy destination (boo), pack (blah) and travel (ugh). Then it's back to normal life and business-as-usual (wah).

Actually, that last part isn't much of a problem. I'm usually pretty excited to get home and get things rolling again. I miss my home and pets and friends, can't wait to sleep in my own bed and have a strange urgency to unpack, get organized and PURGE (after living out of a suitcase, a whole house full of stuff seems like way too much of everything).

But this homecoming was a little bit different. We came home to a house that felt weird. Our dog had fleas while we were gone and while our house-sitter and bug guy did a bang up job taking care of everything, things were still a bit off. The beds didn't have sheets or blankets, toys and towels and pillows were bagged up all over the house, and everything made us feel itchy.

*not actual size* this is just how it feels...

I spent the first day home vacuuming and washing everything that would fit in the washing machine and dryer. Toward the end of the day, a couple neighbors and their kids stopped by and I was telling them my sob story ending with, "But don't worry - we're finally flea-free!"

My neighbor was petting Penny and right at that moment said, "Oh, look. Here's one!" Then she pulled a tiny black jumping bean off Penny's back and I started to itch all over again. You should have seen Penny's face - total shame spiral.

The next day I started from square one. While Penny was getting washed and combed, I washed and combed everything in the house. By the time Bill got home from work our house finally felt like ours. We all had clean sheets and pillows and things smelled and felt like normal again.

So the next day, we acted like life was normal again. We saw friends and went to the park, did regular laundry and finally went to get groceries. On our way, I suddenly noticed smoke coming from my engine. The temperature gauge was on H-O-T and I was half afraid my van would just stop working or explode. Fortunately we were almost the the grocery store so I just took it easy and coasted into the first parking spot I could find.

I called Bill (kind of my solution to everything...) and he said he'd leave work right away to come help. He also called our friends who lived right around the corner from the grocery store and by the time I got what we needed and came back outside, I had a whole crew of amazing people there to help me.

There really is no place like home.

I thought our awkward homecoming was finally taking a turn for the better. Sure, bad stuff was happening, but bad stuff happens to everyone. Not everyone can step back and marvel at the safety net of awesome people who are there to help when things go awry. I was almost glad my van blew a gasket - it gave me time to step back and count my blessings.

After a wonderful night with more amazing friends, we woke up feeling grateful and beyond happy to be home. And then, we found yet another flea on Penny's back.

And then another.

And another.

I ran to the vet to get the end all flea treatment (Comfortis if reading this is making you itch). When I got home Bill said, "I think I know why all this is happening." He was giving me that 'it's all your fault' look and I knew exactly what he meant.

I had accidentally brought home a piece of lava and a piece of coral from Hawaii and he was convinced we were now suffering from Pele's curse. I know what you're thinking. Accidentally? Sure... (Or maybe you're thinking, Pele's curse? What the what?!) But I promise I had no intention of taking anything from the island.

Bill had all kinds of rocks and crystals on his bedside table from a rock shop he stumbled across in Reno. (He had been reading about energy healing and was eager to try cleansing our chakras. Super cool, by the way.) When we were packing to go home I grabbed the lava and coral we brought home to admire and threw them in the suitcase with the rest of the rocks, not realizing they were meant to go back to the beach.

So now, apparently, we're cursed.

We've had the ongoing hex of fleas; an overheated car that needed a pipe replaced (mine); a flooded, moldy car (Bill's); and headaches all week (we think we got re-addicted to caffeine on our trip because when we came home and had tea in the morning instead of coffee, we got caffeine withdrawal headaches that just went away).


We also had a house-sitter and bug guy who were more than willing to help us out from afar, friends come to our rescue and help fix our car, TWO dinner invitations two nights in a row ("How lucky are we?" mused Liam), a sleepover, a girls' night, a fantastic first day of school for Finn, a new art and music class for both boys that they love (which means TWO WHOLE HOURS EVERY WEEK JUST FOR ME!!!), and a homeschool hangout that made me grateful for our school situation all over again.

If I had to bet, I'd say we're probably not cursed. But still, no reason to square off against a volcano goddess.

You win, Pele. Thanks for everything.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Finn's first day of play school.

Yesterday was Finn's first day of school. Ever. Leading up to the big drop off, I had lots of mixed emotions. I was excited for him to have his very own thing (and excited for me and Liam to have our time, too!), nostalgic about how fast my babies are growing, happy to see friends, unsure about what to pack in his lunch (a first!), and scared of a potential first day flop.

Ok, if I'm honest, I was mostly scared.

We had so many first days with Liam that didn't go well. I dreaded that moment of having to peel a fearful child off my leg and run out the door. Never an experience I've enjoyed (and one I've had with Finn at YMCA childcare several times...). I was afraid he would cry, want me to stay, have a bad day, or worse - not want to go back.

I've been looking forward to this type of a schedule for a while now. Finn in preschool two days a week so I could actually do something resembling homeschool with Liam, a place where Finn would have his own friends and activities where he wasn't just Liam's little brother, and time for the introverts in the house to retreat to our respected corners and recharge our batteries.

If school didn't go well for Finn, then what?

Fortunately, I doesn't look like we'll have to find out.

His first day was flawless. We had to wake him up because our flight had gotten in kind of late the night before and we still had to head out for some dinner and figure out where to sleep (we had a flea issue while we were gone - long story - so all of our bedding, etc was in plastic bags, flea free but needing a wash). By the time we got in bed (with no pillows...) and read stories, the jet lag kicked in. It was one of those nights you just want to end. And when it finally did, we had to haul ass to get Finn to school.

Fortunately from the get-go, his attitude was fantastic. He came down the hall, all dressed and ready to eat breakfast and said, "I'm going to play all day today! And learn some stuff, too." He was all smiles and positivity. Even when he expressed a bit of first day jitters, he didn't get derailed. He seemed to know that was just part of doing something new. What a kid.

When we got to school, we immediately saw friends which always helps. Then we went up to his classroom and he sat right down at the table with his class and started working on a shape gluing project.

"Will you stay with me for a little bit?" he asked quietly.

"Of course, buddy," I said, crossing my fingers. So I stayed nearby and chatted with his teacher, checking in now and then to see how he was doing.

"I'm going to go in a bit, okay?"


"I'll come back after class to get you."


And then, just like that, I gave him a squeeze, said goodbye and left. I went home and spend some quality time with Liam and Finn spent the next five hours playing and learning some stuff.

When Liam and I picked him up, he was so sweet. Excited to see us but mostly just stoked at what a great day he'd had. He made an applesauce cake to bring home (delish), made some new friends (his teacher said he's a bit of a ladies man...), rested quietly during nap time and had an "awesome" day.  

I am so happy for our little guy. And for the rest of us! Bill and I kept looking at each other yesterday afternoon like, "Is this just what it's like for most people?!" Because it was so not like that with Liam (it is now but preschool was a different story). It felt fantastic. Knowing your kids can go forth and have an awesome time without you has to be one of the best feelings in the world. I'm so thankful we all got to experience it.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Honeymoon is over.

The first time I ever went to Hawaii was on our honeymoon. We left the morning after our wedding, hungover and exhausted, me with a head full of big hair from my fancy up-do the night before. We woke up too late for showers and had to run to catch our plane. A six am departure after the biggest night of our lives seems like bad planning now, but what did we know? We were just kids, not yet skilled in the fine art of travel and leisure.

We’ve come a long way, baby.

after yoga and meditation under our favorite tree...

Looking back, I feel like I hardly know those two crazy kids who committed their lives to one another. And I can’t help but think that they hardly knew each other! It’s not like we had an arranged marriage or anything - we’d been friends for years and lived together before the wedding - but we still had a lot to figure out.

We still do, of course, but we have a connection now that we didn’t used to have. I guess that’s what fourteen years of marriage gets you…

In honor of our anniversary, we were reminiscing about our wedding and honeymoon the other night. We both admitted how uncomfortable it all was. Not just the cookie cutter wedding (perfect but so not what we’d do today) but even the honeymoon (which is really funny considering that we take the exact same trip any chance we get). It’s not that any of it was bad; it just wasn’t really us.

But I guess we weren’t quite us yet either. Thank goodness we’ve found a way to grow into ourselves without growing apart from each other. Hopefully that will continue as long as we do.

Isn’t it lucky that we get to go forward, not back? Because the more we work to know ourselves and to know each other, the better everything gets. Life, love, marriage, vacation…all of it.

Here’s to fourteen years. May the next fourteen be so great that I look back at us now and think, “You poor saps didn’t know a thing…”