Game Plan: Culture Reset

After my rather mopey post last night and a much-needed day in the grind working from home, I was ready to pull my self-punishing head out of the sand and talk strategy with Papa Bear. 

We read articles, read comments from friends online, and then went back and forth and back and forth for about three hours until we’d settled on, agreed upon, and normed on our suite of strategies and policies. 

Some we’d already been employing with 75% fidelity. Others less. A few others used to be policy, but in the face of changing winds, had dropped to mitigate growth spurts, teething pains, or night awareness. 

That’s how it is with kids. They throw you new curve balls as they develop and change. Like my middle schoolers at work, emerging in their new sense and awareness of injustice and the beginnings of teenage hormones intensifying their reactions. They’re changes require new skills and new levels of self-regulation. They need somewhere to focus that energy, in leader or sports or classes that inspire them. They need adults that listen to their claims of injustice enough to be able to get them to expand their world view. And they need boundaries. Firm ones. Consistent one. Boundaries they can rely on as they learn new tools of self-regulation. Like accepting a teacher’s directions, but asking to talk to her after class so he can explain how the seat she moved him to makes it difficult to concentrate. 

So back to my toddler. Where DH and I landed is what my very astute boss might call a “culture reset.” You make changes, bend policies, and respond inconsistently in the face of difficulty. House or classroom culture goes off the rails. Little corrections won’t fix things. Everyone has to agree on and believe in the rules again. And that means struggle, firmness. It means total alignment of adult wills and strategies. This is how my boss turned the lowest performing elementary school in the district into one of its standard bearers. It’s how she’s kept our other school from going off the rails this year. 

Who knew I’d learn something about parenting like this?

Here’s our suite of policies:


  • No snacks within two hours of dinner
  • Involve Aria in the cooking where possible 
  • Make all eating at the dinner table. Bring food to Aria rather than letting her go to the fridge and demand stuff
  • Distract with activities, not fruit, until meals are ready
  • Set time for dinner where we all stay at the table, even if Aria is done or uninterested in eating
  • Add most of the healthy snacks as part of the dinner menu, so they sit alongside the more meal-like foods and create positive associations 
  • No pushing eating. Our job is to offer good foods, Aria’s job is to decide when she’s ready to eat them
  • Introduce more finger foods for meals
  • Always talk positively about the food
  • Limit fluid consumption in the evening and increase in the morning 

Night Time

  • Use more absorbant night diapers
  • Don’t allow Aria to fall asleep with me in the room
  • Leave when Aria is close, but not all the way to sleep
  • Wait twelve minutes before answering a cry
  • Use a timer (this is excruciating)
  • No food for two rounds of cry answering. Milk and a small snack on the third. 
  • Take turns. Mom first two times. Dad third time. 

3:39. She woke up at 3:01, which is later than most nights in the past few weeks. Been to the room twice to console her. She wrestled and fought for a while before I could calm her down. She even started calling for dad. We went in to see him and when he also didn’t take her downstairs for a snack, she calmed down. 

She melted down after I rocked her for a while, put her down, and then left the room. Monitoring her closely. She’s starting to climb the rails. 

It’s 4:35 now. We’ve been following the night policies since she woke up at 3am. Just offered milk and five goldfish. Crying for us to come. Setting the timer for the fourth time. 
4:40. And Out. 

DH warned me it would be hard. He verified my commitment after we’d agreed on everything. I was a bit offended, but yeah. It was important. 

Hopefully this culture reset doesn’t take too long. I’m tired. But at least I’m tired and hopeful!

Broken Sleep. Failing all over the place. 

I’m just making it worse. Everything I’m doing leads to endless nights of broken sleep. The more exhausted I get, the more I struggle to get it right. 

I can’t get her to eat in the evenings. We’re trying everything. We’re making all sorts of delicious home cooked meals. We try buffet style, casseroles, soups, and simple. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. She won’t eat anything. At best I’ll get her to have a yogurt and some fruit. Then I talk to my friend and she’s talking about  how much her son loves lentils and everything else she makes and already knows all his upper case letters. And how he runs to take his nap in the afternoon because he loves taking naps. Her son is three days older then Aria. And then I really feel like Aria needs a new mom. 

Then it’s seven thirty in the evening. Aria gets super thirsty right before bed and downs a lot of milk or water. 

Then I ease her to sleep, holding her hand. Too often I hold for too long and she falls asleep with me there. Stupid. Sentimental. Tired. Detrimental. 

And then the awful night begins again. 

Starving at 11

Lonely at 1 

Super wet diaper at 3

Starving at 4:30

At 11 I try to keep her in bed, but she melts and desperately signs for food. Fifty percent of the time I cave. Bye bye 30 minutes from the initial cry away to the eating to the post cry. 

At 1, I’m steadfast. I let her cry for ten minutes then let her know I’m hearing her cries. Then tell her night night. Bye bye thirty minutes of sleep. 

At 3 I’m exhausted. I go in after three minutes. I see how wet her diaper is and change it. She’s really fussy. I lay down to calm her. I fall asleep on the floor beside her. In the chill of the morning, I drift in and out of sleep for an hour or so, then finally pull myself up and trudge to bed. 

Fifteen minutes later, she’s melting down. I hear the hunger in her cry. 

I finally solicit DH’s help. We set the time for fifteen minutes. Her meltdown escalates with each passing minute. Finally the buzzer goes off. DH takes her downstairs and gives her a yogurt. It takes another five minutes after that for her to fall asleep. 

I am wide awake. The night is over. It is 5AM. Another failed night of my own making. 

Rinse and repeat. Going on maybe four weeks of this pattern. Every three months since she was born we get a new pattern, finally win after two months of desperate struggle. Sleep okay for a few weeks then it starts all over again. 

Still waiting for those last two canines to pop through her gums…

Seeds of Imagination

Yesterday I was reading a book about picking fruits and vegetables and eating them. When we got to the page about the blueberry bush, Aria reached out, plucked a blueberry from the tree and popped it in her mouth. In the evening, she did the same thing with an apple while daddy was reading. 

A couple of months ago, Aria started “play” — pretending to feed and take care of dolls. 

These moments with the blueberries and apple seems somehow different. There was no fruit or bush, just a book. Somehow the page came alive in her imagination. 

Creating a world all my own was the best part of childhood. I find myself oh so very eager to see the world Aria creates, the world she is only just beginning to see. 

Books. That’s a big part of this. She loves them more than anything. We read a set morning noon and night. She seems to understand them more and more each time we read, each one planting the first seeds of imagination. 

I never was a big reader or lover of books, but I’m starting to understand the love all these reading teachers in my schools have for reading. With each read and reread, the world gets bigger and more interesting. What a gift it is to see it from the start with my own daughter. 

Potty Trained by Two? Challenge Accepted!

You probably don’t want to know what I do in the bathroom, so be grateful you’re not Aria. For several months I’ve been quite explicit. “Mommy is … Look, the … just went in the toilet. Mommy has underwear — I doesn’t need a diaper because I … in the toilet. Look how cute my undies are!”

I bought two kinds of potty training toilets — a little freestanding green one and a toilet seat with a magnetic training toilet that can be dropped down. I showed her these and how special they were. I even had the neighbor kids sit on the freestanding toilet right after we got it to demonstrate. 

Periodically since then, whenever I see Aria …, I take her to the potty and set her on top, diaper and all. Just helping her to get the idea and avoiding traumatizing her by pulling her pants off and demanding action!

A couple of weeks ago, I got a storybook about a girl potty training. Aria was not interested. 

Then last night Aria saw the book on the stairs and asked me to read it. She seemed totally engrossed, but all of the sudden, in the middle of the story, she left and headed up the stairs. 

I frowned and followed. 

That’s when I found her climbing up onto the toilet. She pointed to her diaper and said “Ca ca!” I asked if I could take her diaper off. She nodded and I set her back on the seat. I showed her how to make a … face. 

And low and behold! 

She farted!

We clapped! 

“Yay!” she cried. 

Then we flushed the empty toilet together. 

We did this three times today. I even caught her in the process of a number 1 so I could tell her what she was doing. She was happy to get on the toilet, even though I knew she was already done. 

So, maybe I will get to meet DH’s challenge and have her potty trained by 2!  I’ve got four and a half more months left. 

But really, really. No pressure. Only when she’s interested. 

Only when she has her … game face on!


Will you hold my hand?

When you want to walk 

Standing straight and tall

Down the stairs, Up a hill,

Far away, not far at all,

You take my hand in yours. 

When you feel alone

When it’s late at night

The lights are out

Reaching out,

You take my hand in yours. 

Sitting at breakfast 

Or reading a book

I don’t know why

Or what you’re trying to say

As you reach to take my hand in yours. 

But I feel so warm 

And feel so loved

It changes me for good. 

First day of school?

On your wedding day?

In times of loss?

At my nursing home?
The day I pass?
Will you take my hand in yours? 
A life well lived, joy and hope, if the answer, 

dearest Aria, 

is yes. 

She may not realize it. But she just weaned herself. 

We were down to a single morning feeding. Yesterday and today, she forgot about it. Interestingly, she also just started showing attachment to stuffed animals in the last week. 

So, at three am, she took a yogurt pouch. At 5:30 am, she picked up Pooh Bear from beside her in the crib. I asked her if she wanted breakfast, she laughed and nodded. 

We went downstairs. And that’s it. She’s weaned. I’m pretty confident my boobs won’t hold out another day. They’re asking to nurse, like a warm, nurturing buzz. But it’s more of a whisper than it has been before. 

All the Brewers yeast and fennel oil and oatmeal and tears fighting the feeling that I just wasn’t ample enough for Aria. The pumping six times a day to bring in 12 ounces of milk to provide half the milk Aria was drinking. Finally letting go and accepting it was just fine. 

Five pumps, four pumps, three pumps, two. Pump in the car ride. Pump at night. Pump, pump, pump, pump, pump. 

Three pumps, two pumps, one pump. None! No more in the teachers lounge, oh what fun!

12 nursings. 10 nursings. 5 nursings. Two. Comfort nursings. Nap nursings. Just for you. 

Nursing. Nursing. Middle of the night nursing. Let’s get started with the morning is bright nursing. 

Two nursings. One nursing. Cuddle in the morning nursing. 

Now lookie here. Let’s count to none. 

18 months and Aria is done. 

Aria is obsessed with stairs and benches

There is no stairwell not worth climbing. No set of steps too short or tall. There is no bench not worth sitting in, no chair or stool that can be passed by. 

She climbs things that just look like stairs. Anything. She can’t help herself. If she had to choose between a flight of stairs and a puppy, she would probably choose the stairs. 

I’m not exaggerating. Aria is compelled to climb. And I don’t really get the sense that it is to be on the top. She simply enjoys the journey. 

This girl is going to have thighs of steel. Seriously. She never uses her hands to stand. She could probably teach my body pump class. 

Well, it’s good exercise for the both of us so, uh, thanks??

Benched aren’t much different. Why did the Aria get up on the bench? To climb up on the bench, obviously. 

I had a nightmare. Aria woke me up from it screaming. 

I honestly can’t remember the last time I had a bad dream. I was at my breaking point by the end of it and wanted to scream. 

Instead, I was torn away by the scream of my baby at the end of the hall. 

My heart was still pounding when I picked her up. She looked as upset as me. 

Did a bad dream pass through the house?? I guess I’ll have to write a letter to the BFG and ask if he knows. 

Last Saturday Solo. It was wonderful. Today Aria sang to me. 

This deployment has had its ups and downs. Downs with health. Downs with massive transition at work. Downs with fatigue from being the one and only. 

But my time with Aria. It’s been such an up. On days like this, I realize what a relationship we’ve built together over these long months looking out for each other. 

After dinner and brushing teeth, Aria was eager to turn out the lights and to be put into her crib. 

She gazed at me with that smile of hers, not her charmer smile, or her big grin, or her laughing smile, or her smile of delighted relief I always get when I pick her up from someone else’s care. This was another smile. It was a happy smile. Simple. Full of real love. 

I realized I felt the same, that I was giving her the same smile. I felt sincerely happy. 

This always happens on days I let go, on days when I am just mom. When I’m not thinking about the novel I should be writing or the emails I should be sending or the books I should be reading. When I barely take out my phone except to quickly share a photo or two on Facebook. 

By the end of these days, I feel less tired, less angry, less frustrated. I just feel happy. It takes all day for it to fully settle in. It’s like that 8th day of my honeymoon in Tahiti. That was the first day of my entire like I felt what it truly means to be relaxed. It was transcendent. Really. 

That’s how I feel with Aria. When I’m just mom. In these moments, I feel totally and completely alive. It’s transcendent. It heals the soul. 

I asked my smiling daughter if she wanted me to sing. She nodded. I sang “My Little Aria,” as we held hands through the crib bars. 

My little Aria

Oh how I love you.

You are my daughter

I love you so. 
I will be with you

Here in the darkness, in life’s many dark moments, holding you closely

All night long. 

You may not see me. You may not be sure. 

But I will be with you

All night long. 
My little Aria

Oh how I love you.

You are my daughter

I love you so. 
It has a lot of other verses. I made them up as I went. Then I switched to “Tomorrow” as I often do and then a few hymns. 

We ended up taking three trips over to the changing table while I sang to her. She didn’t complain or protest. Just nodded when I asked her if she needed to be changed. 

On the third trip

Aria started to sing. 

I swear she was singing “Tomorrow.” Her smile widened to a broad grin. 

We sang together

Then I hoisted her up into my arms and hugged her tight. 

I asked her to tell me when she was ready. After a minute or two in each other’s arms, she shifted toward the crib. 

I kissed her good night and set her down. 

As I lifted away, she sang “Tomorrow! Tomorrow!” one more time. Then cried softly for a minute after I drifted away into the night. 

As I laid in bed, remembering what it felt to hear my daughter sing words to me for the first time, I realized this was it. Next week we go back to being three. 

It was a sweet and beautiful end to what felt at times like an impossibly difficult deployment. 

She waved to the ant

She sat there on the sidewalk, playing with her pepper shaker. 

Along came an ant. He made loops and circles between her legs. 

She pointed and poked. 

I half expected her to crush him in curiosity. 

Instead, she recognized life in that little, seemingly insignificant thing before her. 

Aria stood up. 

And waved. 

“Bye bye!”

My favorite things about Aria cerca 18 months

I really like Aria. I mean I totally love with super mother depth. But I really like her too. She’s interesting and funny and fun to be around. She’s intelligent and, in her own baby way, witty. She’s adventurous, loves to explore and figure things out, but loves a good cuddle and a kiss on the cheek. 

So in honor of her turning 18 months this week, here are a few of my favorite things. 

I love her chortle. 

It may be my favorite thing about her. It’s this slightly surprised, slightly expecting, but appreciative laugh she often makes. She sees the humor in something and laughs, rather than laughing in delight or laughing because something is silly. It’s “a laugh because she is amused or appreciative of something.” A chortle. I hope she always has it. I find it quite distictive and it always make me appreciate the humor in a situation too. 

I love how she communicates. 

I’ve an unfinished blogpost about communication and lots of hand waving. But Aria, she’s just so interesting about it. She gestures and moves her body and does this full on head nod when you get something right. It’s almost as if she’s the adult and your the child who just answered a question right. As if she understands I’m just slow and it’s an accomplishment when I figure things out. At the same time, this comes of as charming rather than condescending so you actually feel approved of in the same way if your manager tells you what a good job you’ve done and really means it. 
I love how Aria celebrates success. 

Aria is just fun. She likes to play and puzzle things out. She spent a half hour figuring out how to turn her wrist just so in order to get a teaspoon into a baking soda box. When she knows something is in reach (I had to prove it to her a couple of times so she wouldn’t give up) she goes at it with delightful determination. And when that teaspoon finally went in, she grinned with satisfied success. It’s not gloating. She seems pleased with accomplishing the task, rather than being the one who accomplished it. She even chortles after accomplishing something or figuring something out.

I love how Aria chooses her friends. 

She’s so friendly. Though a little overwhelmed by crowds and lots of unfamiliar faces, in small encounters Aria smiles and waves and talks in her baby talk way. She chooses her friends, even at this age, and the ones she chooses are the ones who make her laugh or are low key but equally engaged with life. In other words, so far at 18 months, Aria chooses friends who bring out the best in her. I hope she’s always so sage. She seems to gravitate to adults who, rather than loving on her, show her new and interesting things. Today my friend Cristina showed her butterflies and stacking baskets and a unique doll her daughter had made. She talked to her like I talk to her, as if they were having a conversation. Before I knew it, Aria was waking right over to her and asking to be held in her arms. That almost never happens. 

I love how Aria talks. 

I realized recently that I’m constantly taking to Aria. It wasn’t really a conscious thing. While I always forget to point out things and repeatedly give names, I tell Aria everything that is going on, get her input on things in a conversational way, and explain what’s happening. I also didn’t really consciously realize Aria was actively engaged in many of these conversations. “Gagle ga ha ba ba all done ga gi ga… Ba ha ma ma mo mi night night mi mil ba ba.” I noticed it when in real words started popping up in her sentences. “Oh. Yes. We’re really having a conversation!” 

Yesterday I was at my friend’s house and we laid a blanket down for Aria to curl up on. Cristina showed Aria a doll getting into the blanket, rubbing her eyes, and falling asleep. Aria mimicked the doll and curled up on the blanket. She then began talking and singing to herself and the doll for the next half hour. 

The other amazing thing in this communication front is about two months ago it became very clear Aria was understanding most of what I say. I realized it when I handed her that cleaned and said blow your nose and she did. I can ask her questions, give her directions and tell her all sorts of things. If she knows a related word, she’ll say it with a satisfied grin. “Walk.”

She’s just so eager to communicate. I have a feeling she is going to be a great conversationalist. 

I love how in charge Aria is of herself. 

Last week when Grandma was here, she and Aria were eating dinner together in the kitchen. She started looking tired and rubbing her eyes. She pointed to the ceiling. Surprised, Grandma carried her upstairs. Aria pointed to her crib. Stunned, Grandma set her inside. After a second or two of getting comfortable, she rolled over and went to sleep. 

She’s just very aware of herself. When she’s cold, she asks for a shirt. When she’s hungry, she drags me to the fridge and picks out s snack. Usually yogurt, a clementine, aged cheddar, or whole grain crackers. 

Yesterday she pointed to her diaper when she was working on something, said CaCa and led me to the bathroom. I sat her on the lid of the toilet and she sat there whole she finished. 

I just get the sense that she’s going to be very self-aware and instead of using that self-awareness to beat herself up, she’s going to use it to be a master of self and a leader of others. 

Or this may just mean she’s better at picking out clothes than me, like earlier this week when she realized the top and bottom she’d picked out did not match the way she was hoping. 

I love how chill Aria is, 95% of the time

None of us are chill all the time and Aria is definitely not chill when her teeth hurt, when she’s over tired, when she’s worried about someone taking her away from me, or when she feels she’s been treated really unfairly.

The rest of the time she is easy and fun and seems to easily get enjoyment out of everything life has to offer. And it’s this kind of savvy enjoyment. She seems to get the humor or life, even as young as she is. I think this is why I legitimately enjoy Aria’s company. It’s fun doing things with her. And I feel very confident it’s only going to get better The more she is capable of doing. And with the way she figures things out. There is a heck of a lot she is going to be capable of very soon.

So here’s to you! 

Happy 18 months. You are now twice the age you were when you were born. That is quite an accomplishment.

It’s kinda poetic. I’ve been working on this post for a week. Just as I’m uploading the last picture and preparing to publish, I hit shuffle on my music. 

 Shots by Imagine Dragons came on. It took me back to 20 minutes after Aria was born, when she crawled up my chest to nurse for the first time. 20 minutes old, fighting her way up those 8 inches to get what she needed. It’s just who she is. Gotta love her!

Phases in Sleep

Tonight Aria needed company as she travelled from wake to sleep. I sang about tomorrow and eased her into her crib. Resting my hand on her back, I sang about finding peace in living a life worth living. 

If I lifted my palm, sad sobs slipped off her lips. 

Finally, I ended up beside her. She shifted close, until her whole body was resting against the bars. 

She reached out and stroked my knee for a time. I became quiet. We listened to each other for a time. 

She just stared out into the darkening eve. 

Minutes ticked by. 

We both stared into the dark. 

I was surprised she could remain so still and contemplative for so long. 

Perhaps it’s the change to cots at school. She was the first, bold and independent, switching alone to her cot more than two months early. But now, joined by friends in her naps, she longs to be near those she loves in sleep as well. 

It’s all phases. I stayed there until her eyes dropped and closed, until her breathing went deep and heavy, rivaling the breathing of the fan a few feet away. 

I savored the moment. I felt whole there with her. 

I’ve been going almost entirely tech down when I’m with her over the past several weeks. So instead of passing these long minutes with news reports of elections or of maneuving resources across a hexagonal game field, I simply lived and loved. 

It was the slowest and best half hour of my week. 

Thanks Aria. You make me such a better person. You’ve filled my life and made me whole. I love you. I love every moment with you. Thanks for being you😉

And that’s when I silenced  the fire alarm with a light saber and a bleeding thumb…

I don’t know what anyone else did this evening, but the least exciting part of my evening was dashing through a torrential downpour, thunder clapping at my heels, toddler wailing, and new skirt dripping with water as my cheap umbrella shrinks to half its wingspan. 

I get inside and the handful of ants I’d noticed and crushed this morning in the entryway, which was a troubling development I intended to investigate when I got home, had now ballooned into an army of about two hundred ants. 

They were all over. Up and down the entryway, over the tiny side counter,  covering my pots and pans, skittering around in my cuisinart. 

I squish as many as I can, which had the effect of shifting Aria’s mood from annoyed at being dragged through the rain to being captivated by the battle beneath her.

I then begin vascilating between killing ants, scrubbing pots and pans and counters, feeding Aria, and then subsequently giving Aria things to entertain herself with. It’s at this point that she knocks a butternut squash from my friend’s garden onto the floor, accelerating the need to cook it…

Just as I’m about to get Aria to bed, I realize I’ve got beans soaking and have to cook them. I get the pot going, then head upstairs for several rounds of Minnie’s Boutique and Chica Chica Boom Boom. 

When I get downstairs, I immediately. return to the brutal battle front and slay another couple of platoons of ants. I wait out the army. 

Haha! There!

As the last of a couple dozen ants tumble into the trash can and the caulk on their escape route dries, I finish the next phase of the black beans and begin cutting up butternut squash fries. 

Before I know what’s happening, I’m on FaceTime showing my stepmom the blood streaming down my thumb. I stave off the bleeding and get the butternut squash in the oven, then run upstairs to wrap layer upon layer of gauze on my still bleeding lobbed off tip of my thumb with my free hand.

When I get downstairs, there’s a fire in the oven. 

I’m not joking. Dad and my step mom were still on FaceTime with me. 

The fire finally dies down. 

I feel a weird sensation. 

Oh man. Aunt Flow is back for another visit. 

I get off the phone and race back upstairs. 

While I’m in the middle of putting in a tampon, I hear a soothing British voice warning me there is smoke in the entryway. 

I stumble downstairs, clean underwear in one hand. 

The alarm sounds. 

I look around, desperate for something tall enough to reach it. “Don’t wake the baby!” I think frantically. 

And that’s when I see it, as if it had been calling for me all along. 

My light saber. 

Aria had been playing with it earlier in the evening. 

I heft it skyward and silence the alarm. 

I listen. 

No cries. 

But then the British woman speaks again.

“There’s smoke in the entryway.”


I silence it again… And again…

The voice explains what is happening. The alarm can’t be silenced. There’s too much smoke. 

I never turned off the oven. I thought maybe I could finish my squash fries… I cut off my thumb trying to make them…

Aria starts to wail. I throw down my light saber, pull on my underwear, and run to turn off the oven. 

I sprint up to get Aria, then realize she’s in the least smoke filled room. So I just hold her. 

The alarm sounds over and over again. 

Over and over and over again. 

The woman speaks again in that comforting, I’m-so-much-better-than-you monotone. 

The smoke is clear. 

I put Aria back in her crib. 

I pack up the fries and beans. 

Then I fill up with a long, deep breath. 

Needless to say, I did not analyze state assessment data tonight like I was planning on. 

I took some Tylenol instead. 

Night everyone!

Shaping Life’s Experiences with a Blossoming Memory

I really dislike reading things about baby development — they take away the magic of it all. Here. Let me show you why. 

I’ve been watching awestruck over the past two weeks as a dramatic wave of change has taken hold of my daughter. 

Subtle and beautiful and unexpected. Was I really seeing this? 

Was it new or had I just not been paying attention?

Then, last night, Aria hands me a paper from daycare I had ignored. It spelled out every nitty gritty detail of the transformations from 12 to 18 months. Something to the effect of a very scientificy statement about the child exhibiting first signs of memory and imagination. 


I frowned. This is exactly why I stopped reading parenting guides and books about development probably at six months pregnant. Where’s the adventure in being told what is going on?

Here’s the magic I had been experiencing. 

I’d of course noticed months ago how Aria very clearly knew where all of her favorite foods were located. Cheese in the cheese drawer, crackers on top of the fridge, clementines in the crisper. 

Then I’d noticed how we could be playing at a vantage point and she noticed this big interesting rock. When we went down the stairs and around, it was like she knew exactly where it was. 

But the first time I really realized the extent of Aria’s change in memory, was when it became a memory about an experience, rather than a sight or food. 

One day a couple weeks ago we were hanging out in the kitchen at breakfast. Aria started squealing and waving her hands. Through the nonsensical stream of vocabulary I heard loud and clear

“Ga!!! Ga!!!”


Sure enough. There was Buddy heading into his house down the road. 

[Just for context, Aria LOVES dogs and has since the moment she first met her cousin, Toc. They’re her favorite part about walks in the morning. Pretty much her favorite thing in the world. 


It had taken me too long to figure out, but Aria insisted that we go outside to pet Buddy as we often did in the mornings. She looked everywhere. I took her hand and led her down the sidewalk. We knocked on Buddy’s door. I explained what happened and, with a big grin, Trek led Buddy out. 

Aria exuded delight as the tiny dog kissed her face. It may have been one of the happiest, most surprising moments of her short little life. 

A week later Aria looks up at me in the kitchen and says “Ga!” This time there was definitely no dog outside. After some nonverbal discussion, she’s dragging me outside by the finger and leading me to the neighbor’s house. 

She remembered. And she wanted that miraculous experience again. 

What was so distinct about the was that it wasn’t some trigger, like seeing her stroller or the refrigerator. She was thinking about a memory she’d had and wanted to repeat it. 

I can see memory in her eyes more and more since then. She sends signals to do certain things, like dancing around the living room, or remembering things that make me laugh and doing them with that look in her eyes, waiting for me to giggle. It’s not me suggesting or her reacting to triggers, like I said, it’s her pulling from her experiences to shape and decide the new moments of her life. 

I find that extraordinary. 

And I don’t need some paper to point it out to me — Aria is the far more interesting teacher of what happens as a tiny little supermanning baby stands up, speaks out, and becomes a full blown child!

Solo Mom — Ornery Child? The impact of a 162 day long work week?

It may just be me, but I feel like if a mom flies solo for too long, there have to be ramifications on the child. DH has been gone for a third of Aria’s life now. The equivalent of a decade for him or me. 

When you fly solo, you are the whole army. There is no relief unit, no cavalry fresh and ready to swoop in and set things straight. There is only a tired, blood-soaked infantry. 

You operate in survival mode far too much of the time. What can I do or give my child so I can rest or gain relief from your cries? A habit of appeasement takes root and the child begins to reign. 

You give in to get a moment’s rest, but you never really do rest. 

162 days without sleeping in. 162 days of packing breakfasts and lunches, of providing walks or entertainment, of holding you when you cry. 162 days without the baby napping longer than an hour at home. By the time you wind down to follow suit, she calls your name. 

Never fresh. Never enough energy to really reset things. 

Go ahead. Take Poland. Have Crimea. 

A 162 day work week. 

I am in such a habit of appeasement, 75% of the time now I let her lead me to the fridge and show me what she wants to eat. My only saving grace is getting to put together an elaborate lunch box full of fruits and veggies and nutritious dishes for then ten and a half hours you are at daycare 5 days a week.

Occasionally I brave the storm and assert how I want things. 

I succeed with a lot of other things just by replacing and redirecting. Head on collision almost never works. 

Trying to pick your nose? Here’s a Kleenex. 

Headed for the trash? I tell you it’s “Caca” and make a gross face. You step back. 

Trying to walk hands free in the street? I force my hand on you or pull you up screaming. 

Don’t want to get in the car seat? Here’s a cracker. Or when I don’t have one, I just muscle you in😦

I let you take your time walking out the door and almost always take you on a walk when you ask. Sometimes it makes me late for work or a meeting. Shrug. 

162 days into my workweek. Five sick days, two real trips to urgent care for an emergency injection of my Addison’s medicine. Five times hired a babysitter, four to get done projects for work, once to sleep. 

I can be late for a meeting to make our morning smooth and pleasant together. 
I do wonder if I’m bending too much to your wants and directions. 

I’m sorry at home your diet has devolved to milk, yogurt, fruit, cereal, cheese, and blue corn chips. 

You seem so happy and vibrant, though you have your moments. It seems wrong to elaborate on those moments for an audience. Ms. Terry knows what I’m talking about😉

Anyway. I hope I’ve done okay by you, even if I’m stumbling more and more the longer this workweek drags on. 

Your grandma just flew in to help. 

The cavalry is here! 

She’s going to cook and spend time with you. Maybe I’ll get to sleep in, or sleep through a 2am meal! 

Tomorrow I have work to do. I won’t have time to rest, though I’m going to try and keep it short. I’m so tired. 

I mentioned how a month after DH left, my charter network slips into three regions and laid off two dozen people, leaving me trying to sort out and keep constant the support previously coming from six people, right? I have no idea how I’ve survived this deployment. I’ve cried at work a couple times. I’d promised myself I’d never do that at this job. 

I just hope I’ve done right by you through it all. I think I’ve done my best. I’ve given you all the boundaries I’ve had strength to put up. 

Daddy’s coming home soon. I’m lucky in that. Maybe he can make right anything I’ve messed up.

Maybe between him and grandma, we can have family meals at the table again. 

But who knows, maybe all this will set you up as CEO material!

Who knows? 


One thing I do know. 

162 day work week. I need a weekend!

Me time is baby time. 

I had an epiphany last week talking to my sister. She was lamenting how this lady had, like many times before, dumped her kids off to go be with friends, using some pretense for my sister to care for them. She was especially annoyed because the woman had been gone all week at a conference and she didn’t get it. The lady had wanted kids so bad. Why was she always trying to unload them?

I’m a “middle-aged” new mom, if you exclude random 60 year old pregnancies. It means I spent all my formative and defining college years, and five more years of good health and bold years after that as a woman. I developed hobbies, pleasures, and pastimes as an individual and then as a wife. I wrote an okay novel, half of a better one, and the first two chapters of two even better ones. I served a mission. After I met DH, I quickly learned to love eating at nice restaurants, having long conversations, exploring new places, seeing movies, and giving each other the time and space and verbal support to excel in our careers. I still took extra classes and found time on the train to write. 

 As fairytale-esc as being DINC (after we made it through the two poor years of grad school and my massive dental bills from getting a spinning hook kick to the face, ninja-style), we both wanted children. Two of them. We wanted to be a family, a clan. 

I had a vague sense of what I was trading. It led us to go out twice a week for a month before we gave birth, each time toasting to what we thought could be the last time we ever ate out together. 

When DH deployed, the trade-off was palpable. Any real heavy weeks of really going the extra mile for work (working late nights or crazy early mornings multiple days in a row) and I literally ended up at urgent care getting an emergency injection of corticosteroids for my Addison’s condition. None of my single, grad school, or DINC (dual-income no children) pastimes, not even heroic service at work, were anymore possible. 

And that’s when this conversation with my sister struck me. I chose Aria as a new way to spend my time and heart. Not a hobby, but a way of life. 

Instead of novels, a blog about mother and daughter. 

Instead of fine dining, an adventure through the grocery store, capped with a meal from the hot bar. 

Instead of a Saturday developing a system for setting up response to intervention in my elementary schools, a Saturday at the park and nature center and mall playground. 

Instead of a long novel or book about Ed policy, the news. Short and sweet and easily digestible. 

Instead of walks alone or with my husband, family walks with a detour to the playground. 

Instead of extra classes in project management or business analytics, life became a class in humility. 

Instead of binging through shows like Battlestar Galactica in a month, we binge on watching Aria transform and grow. 

When I watch Aria at play, that is me time. It’s the time I’ve chosen for myself in this adventure called motherhood. 

750 snacks and meals later…

I don’t know if it’s an Aria phase or a burnout after months of solo parenting. But she’s just being a picky eater lately. She’ll eat her berries and sweet potato mash and beet applesauce. She’ll eat yogurt and drink her milk. She craves aged sharp cheddar cheese. She’ll eat almond butter right out of the jar with a spoon. And she likes tofu. She really likes tofu. 

Sometimes she’ll eat her mini quiches. Sometimes she’ll eat her chicken and veggies. And yesterday I got her to eat quinoa brown rice by making it buffalo style with butter and hot sauce. 

But that’s kind of it. Over and over again. When she gets bored with it, more cheese and yogurt takes hold. 

Sometimes I think I’m just kidding myself that I’m doing right by her diet. 

Only want bread? 

Sure. But it’s going to be whole grain and fresh. No preservatives. 

Won’t eat breakfast today?

Fine. Have gmo free blue chips rich in magnesium, iron, and other minerals. Here’s some salsa. Dip it and I’ll pretend you ate your vegetables for the day. 

Only want yogurt? Don’t want your chicken and broccoli?

Fine. Have plain organic yogurt blended with mangos and kale. 

The problem with this is that I haven’t really pushed her to try sauces or chili or sandwiches or noodles or soups. Occasionally I’ll put those in front of her, but I’m not really making them for me. 

The best, or at least most diverse, meals I get are from grocery store buffets. 

Sigh. And if I want to rest, I’m more inclined to hand her the bread and cheese, let her fill up and go down filled and happy. 

But grandma is coming! And DH isn’t too far behind. 

Cause right now, after planning or providing 5 meals/snacks a day for almost six months, my creativity and willpower in meal making a food exposure is a bit tapped out… 750. That’s a lot of figuring out what to feed someone. 

Heavens. How many meals moms and pops must go through! I’m only getting started!!

An essay on stress

Breathing in and out, this deep exhaustion. Source unknown. A sudden, deep, unexpected broken. Your body is amazing. It will do as you say. When one part is broken, it will commit any part or limb at its disposal to bridge the gap. But sometimes, it just keeps compensating until there is nowhere left to go but a cliff. 

Addison’s is a fascinating illness. Cortisol is what wakes and motivates you. It tells you to metabolize and tells your heart to raise and lower pressure in times of stress or emergency. It tells you to hold on to salt when the sun barrels down on you. It is the warrior at the gate, the defensive linebacker, the bodyguard. It’s not the hero on the front lines dripping sweat and blood to save the army in fight or flight — that’s adrenaline. 

I feel I know stress better now than I ever did before Addison’s destroyed my ability to make cortisol five years ago. Better than when I got a name for the tanning skin, nausea, fatigue, lightheadedness, urgent peeing, cloudy concentration, salt cravings, and unquenchable thirst that plagued me for a year before I got diagnosed. 

I feel the impact of stress on the body in such an unusual way. The sun stresses your body, you just may not notice the full effects, depending on how well your body compensates. Driving for an hour stresses your body. It compensates with cortisol. Emotions can turn to physical stress. So can not sleeping enough or drinking enough or taking time to meditate or rest your swirling thoughts. Starting a new workout. Changing your eating habits. Losing weight. Losing a loved one. Drinking coffee. Catching a cold. Getting rearended. Food poisoning. Dental surgery. Giving birth. 

I have to pay solid attention to what has a physical stress attached to it. I have to note if it’s a familiar stressor, a new and permanent one, or a temporary visitor. 

If I’m used to it, I take my regular dose of cortisol. If it’s new and permanent, like starting a new workout routine for the umpteenth time, I take a little extra cortisol the first couple times, and then my body says “Check! I’ve got this! I know what to do.” If it’s temporary, I take a little extra, or double, or triple, depending on how bad. 

The problem comes when I don’t acknowledge stress. If the new stress is subtle, but real, like the commute I added a year ago, it can creep up on me. Slowly, day by day, I start to feel a little sicker, like before I was diagnosed. It can feel like morning sickness or just fatigue and lightheadedness. My body may compensate by sending out Thor, God of adrenaline, or whatever else it can do. If I say keep going, it’ll keep going. It’ll just metabolize slower or lower my blood pressure or turn off some electrolyte management. I have no idea how it decides. 

If it goes too long, eventually that cliff comes and I’m out sick and calling my endocrinologist for blood work. 

If it’s a sudden thing, like whatever happened last week. Maybe food poisoning? I didn’t stress dose. Instead, my entire body slowed to a stop. I could barely think. It hurt to move or look at my phone or the tv. So I laid there, my body spending every ounce of cortisol I gave it on whatever virus or bug was plaguing my system, for 36 hours. All the symptoms of crisis were there, but it took me an hour and a half to conjure up the will and energy to look for my phone and call my parents to rescue me. Three emergency doses of cortisol later and I was human again. 

Someday I was to write a book about stress. We all live with it. We let it torture our system and weaken us silently from inside. Some people let it drive them to great things. Others let it drive them into the ground. Some people meditate to reduce their cortisol. Some people workout to expend it. 

But the better I become intimate friends with stress, the better I become my own defensive linebacker and read the game in front of me, the more likely I will be to survive. 

I’ll do my best Aria. I want to see your kids graduate from college after all. I want to be there to answer the phone as you achieve your dreams and face your sorrows. I want to be there to help like my dad and stepmom do when I really need them. 

Knives and imitation 

Couldn’t figure out why Aria was so upset as I was cutting up an apple in front of her. Had I destroyed it? I thought you wanted this?!? I gave her a fresh apple and she took it, but was still really upset. 

Oh. She wants the knife. Heck no!

Still upset. 


Then I see the measuring spoon within reach. 

Super pleased, she takes it and begins “cutting up” her apple. 

Problem solved!