Slowly, but surely, Aria is beginning to understand watercoloring. Reminds me of my mom, with whom Aria shares a middle name. It’s nice too, because art transcends death. It outlasts us. It remembers even when we do not.
I admit, I didn’t think she knew or noticed the big white tree painted on her nursery wall.
It’s been there since before she was born. I never told her it was a tree. I never even pointed it out.
Then she did it again.
She pinched her fingers against the painted leaf and popped another imaginary berry in her mouth. And then she grinned.
I feel silly I was surprised that she understands representations of things. That’s what books are full of. And she’d learned from her book that trees have fruit and that the fruit can be picked and eaten.
I grabbed my camera.
“Can you do it again?”
She picked it and ate it.
Just like in her book.
Oh yeah. Feeling successful. Honestly, just having a strategy that feels right and that we’re agreed on feels great. Add pretty quick results and I’m on cloud nine. Maybe it’s the full eight hours I got the last two nights for the first time in months. Maybe it’s the taste of just a little success.
It was hard, but we knew exactly what we’re were going to do, so it was easy too. Put out a spread a dinner, set new foods alongside familiar foods, with enough to ensure she could get adequate calories, but learn that she can’t choose her mealtimes or add to her menu options.
She downed her pizza spaghetti squash casserole! Go dad!! Then happily fed me her veggies 😉 At least she loves the green smoothies!
Suddenly she was more hungry and thirsty at breakfast. Yesterday she accepted that she had to wait in her seat while breakfast and dinner were brought to her.
We also stayed consistent in the night with the timer. Also made sure to peace out before she could fall asleep holding my hand 😦 She figured out after a couple long stretches not getting her demands met that there just wasn’t any point to heralding mom or dad in the middle of the night.
We’ll see how long it lasts. I mean, we still got those three canines and the terrible twos!
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
- 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!
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…
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.
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.
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.
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!
“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!