Today I had one of those moments I wish I could bottle up for future enjoyment. I stood in the kitchen washing dishes while my three girls sat at the table eating lunch together. For some reason, I had pulled the baby’s high chair directly up to the table rather than attaching the tray. The girls were mostly finished eating when the baby started banging her hand on the table. To her sheer delight, her older sisters began to imitate her. I watched the baby look from one sister back to the other over and over, grinning from ear to ear as the three of them banged their hands on the table. The sound, which at other times might have spurred the onset of a migraine, was music to my ears. It was a soft, rhythmic drumming highlighted by happy notes of laughter.
I stood watching them for no more than two minutes before they were finished with their game, but as I watched them, I realized that this was one of the savory moments in life. In this moment, I felt so much joy and delight and love for my children. This is one of the moments I hope to remember during the not-so-pleasant times of sass and crankiness that are commonplace in a house with three girls.
Both of my daughters are an endless source of entertainment…well, most of the time. Today, not so much. Anyway, my two-year-old really keeps me in stitches most days with the things she says, such as the song she made up in the car yesterday that went something like this: “Boogers. Boogers. Everybody has boogers on them.” Children don’t come into this world equipped with a filter between their brains and their mouths. In a slow, arduous, and usually embarrassing process, we have to teach them not to speak out loud every thought that comes to mind. I’m sure you can think of plenty examples, even if you don’t have your own children, of awkward or embarrassing things kids say to or about other people…loudly…in public. Granted, their words don’t generally embarrass them, only their parents. One of my favorites: a friend told me her niece walked up to a woman (whom my friend knew well) and told her, “Your hair is scaring me.” This precious girl was simply expressing something most of us felt, but would never have uttered aloud. Her mother stood there mortified, while everyone else was busy wetting themselves they were laughing so hard.
My sweet two-year-old made some observations of her own a few weeks ago in the bathroom at the commissary. (For those of you who are non-military, a commissary is a grocery store on a military installment where we don’t pay taxes, and we can buy things like milk and meat really, really cheap.) The commissary I frequent is a half hour drive from my house without traffic. Often by the time I finally arrive, I have to make a quick pit stop. On one such day, my daughter and I went into the stall, and as I sat down on the toilet, she observed, “Your bobum (“bottom”) is big. My bobum is little.” I laughed and agreed with her. At this point, another woman walked into the restroom and sat down in the stall next to mine. Unfortunately, my girl was not finished with her observations for the day. Next, she asked me, “And why your bobum has hair?” At this, I started laughing really hard, which apparently made the woman next to me realize that it was okay to laugh too. When we came out of the stall to wash hands, she looked over at me with an embarrassed smile. I told her it was a shame she had missed out on the earlier observation about bobum sizes. This early twenties woman with no children of her own laughed again, and I thought, “You just wait…your day of humbling will come. Mark my words, it will come.”
I blame the teeth. It’s those darn 2-year molars. It has to be. I recognize that my 2 ½ -year-old is going through the developmental stage of autonomy (also known as the “I do it myself” phase), which lends itself to frequent tantrums when others (namely me) try to usurp her independence for the sake of saving time. I try to build an extra half hour into our morning routine to allow for the time it takes for her to choose her own mismatched outfit, “brush” her own teeth, fight with me about my desire to finish brushing her teeth, attempt to put on her shoes, get really angry when she can’t do it herself, come crying to me to help her, and then freak out because I end up being the one to finally get her shoes on her feet. Somehow, that half hour is seldom enough. We are late most days, often because I make the mistake of putting her in the carseat when she can clearly do this herself. I also recognize that even on a good day she has a really bad temper. Despite all of this, I cannot figure out why my ordinarily funny and good-natured girl has turned into a beast on most days. The only thing that makes sense to me is the teeth. This is the child that keeps us in stitches with her antics. She usually takes great pleasure in making us laugh, but lately, not so much. That’s why I have to cling to the one funny story from this week. It started out not-so-funny. I was talking on the phone with my sister when my darling girl began her 37th tantrum of the day. Generally, I walk away from her when she begins her tirades, and generally, she follows me, complaining loudly. I was explaining this routine to my sister, and I was just commenting that it was strange that she was not following me. That’s when I heard it. The crying that had been coming from the floor below me was now coming in loud and clear…over the intercom. For some reason, my girl decided it would be easier (???) to go in the bathroom, get the step-stool, carry it into the other room, and continue her tantrum over the intercom the previous owners of our home so kindly installed. After a long, long day dealing with drama after drama from my youngest, I really needed this moment of humor. I guess she can be funny even when she’s in beast mode.
I often find myself in conversations with other people about appropriate expectations for young children. These conversations generally revolve around schools and preschools and the sometimes elevated expectations adults have of young children’s behavior. However, last Friday I was at a MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) meeting where the speaker was talking to us about being nurturing parents. She had a lot of really great points regarding love and discipline, but the point I have found most useful was regarding expectations. The speaker told us to expect that our children are going to do bad things because they are, and if we are expecting it we won’t be quite as shocked. She was not implying that we let our children do whatever they want or get away with inappropriate behavior. She was simply saying that kids are going to do things you don’t want them to do. If you are expecting it, you can deal with the behavior…not your own disappointment regarding their behavior. I have found this bit of advice to be most useful this week because it has spared me a lot of frustration with the girls. For instance, I prepared myself ahead of time yesterday to expect the girls to interrupt me while I was trying to clean the bathroom. I gave myself the same little reminder as I was preparing dinner last night and again while writing this blog this morning. (Not that interrupting me is “bad behavior”…just a little annoying at times.) I have also been working on anticipating situations that I know will be more difficult transitions for the girls. This has allowed me to be able to plan ahead for how to manage their behavior if or when it does occur. Changing my expectations of the girls and their behavior has really helped me be more patient with them, and it has made the time I spend with them so much more enjoyable.
People occasionally make comments to my husband and me regarding the fact that we have two daughters and no sons. The most common comment to my husband is, “So, are you going to try for a boy?” To which he always replies, “No. I’m good with my two girls.” (FYI, this is because little girls are generally calmer and less inclined toward destruction than little boys.) The second most frequent comment we get is, “Just wait until they get to middle school. You’ll have more drama than you ever thought possible.” To which I respond, “I honestly can’t imagine much more sass and drama than we already have in our house. By the time they reach puberty, I think we’ll be immune to it.” However, there is one other comment we sometimes hear that is troubling. That comment is, “Two girls…that’s going to be expensive later on.” This comment is always in reference to the cost of future weddings…which is why we are already planting the idea of small weddings or eloping in our daughters’ minds. (If you were one of the hundreds in attendance at my wedding, you will know that I’m just kidding about small weddings…I sure do love a big event.) This comment is troubling to me, not because I’m worried about being able to retire at a reasonable age, but because no one warned me how much little girls can cost right now.
I believe the true cost in rearing daughters can be summed up in two words: toilet paper. I could be wrong, but I really don’t think mothers of boys have the same difficulty keeping their homes stocked with toilet paper. My girls are 2- and 4-years-old, and they go through toilet paper like no one’s business. How could two tiny people use so much??? I have analyzed the problem and observed my daughters, and I have decided that there are several contributing factors. They have to wipe every time they go (unlike boys), and they are often liberal in their use of paper. I’m a bit germaphobic, so I don’t get too upset about this one. They also tend to use toilet paper when they can’t reach paper towels. They haven’t quite grasped the idea that toilet paper gets really yucky when drenched with liquid. They also use toilet paper as tissues, which is also fine with me because as much as I’m complaining about toilet paper, it sure is cheaper than tissues. They have both come down with colds this week, so I can forget about conserving toilet paper for the next two weeks. I am sure that we will come to some sort of compromise regarding their over-use of toilet paper, but I still don’t see the issue going away entirely. Maybe I’ll try guilt… “Do you know how many trees died to give you that roll of toilet paper?? Sheryl Crowe only uses ONE square per wipe. Maybe you should try that.” If that fails, I’m going to start buying stock in Charmin.
My first child slept through the night within the first six weeks of life. We could feed her, swaddle her, put her in bed still awake, and the little angel would drift off to sleep for six to seven hours straight. That was just as a newborn. As she has grown older, once she falls asleep for the night, she is down for the count. It is magnificent. My husband and I had it all figured out, or so we thought. Then we had our second baby. I spent at least the first six months of her life sleeping in the armchair in her room, holding her. To put it mildly, she was (and still is) a light sleeper. I would watch her little eyes flutter closed. I would wait a good half hour, and then I would gently place her in her bed. Sometimes she would wake up and voice her displeasure at the indignity of being made to sleep in her crib instantly. Other times she would wait until I was across the house and settled snuggly in my own bed. Either way, I eventually gave up. I would kiss my husband good night and head off to my new armchair bed for the night. (Let me tell you, this was not a Lazy Boy either…this was just a plain old armchair without an ottoman that I laid across sideways.) I did finally figure out that if I positioned bed pillows correctly in her crib, I could trick her into believing she was still being held, at least for a few hours. And before any of you finish gasping about the dangers of putting pillows in a baby’s crib, let me say two things. One, the child came out of my womb holding her head up. I kid you not. She did this within minutes of being born. (That should have been my first clue that she would be “active” and “strong-willed.”) Second, and most importantly, desperate times call for desperate measures.
After two years, she still likes to visit with us in the middle of the night. She gives us two or three nights in a row of solid sleep, just to give us a bit of respite and trick us into believing that maybe, just maybe, she is going to settle into a normal sleep routine. Then, seemingly out of the blue, we hear her, not crying, but calling…“Mama? Maaa-maaa!” To give my youngest a bit of credit, she did go for about a month once of sleeping through the night. However, just when I began to feel like a real person again with coherent thoughts and a desire to look presentable, she started waking in the middle of the night. We have yet to determine why she wakes up. Sometimes she’s hungry, sometimes thirsty, sometimes hot, sometimes cold, lonely, bored, who knows??? She has been potty-trained since she was about 20-months-old, but she still sleeps in a diaper, so sometimes she wakes up if her diaper is wet. If she gets a cold, forget about sleep. If she cannot breathe easily through that tiny, adorable nose, she is not sleeping…no mouth breathing for my girl.
I know I am not alone in this. I constantly see Facebook posts from friends with young children going through the same sleepless struggle. And I do mean struggle. Having disrupted sleep every night is really tough. I look like a hag most days. I’m convinced that the day I show up to pick up my older daughter from preschool actually wearing make-up her teachers are going to ask for my I.D. before they let me take her. Two years of this is really taking a toll on me. I read a disconcerting article recently about sleep deprivation studies using rodents that found that these poor animals actually died when they were prevented from sleeping over a period of a few days. In case you are hoping I’ll cite a source for this study, you’re out of luck. I am just too tired to look for it right now.
Every once in awhile I find a parent who does not admit to having trouble getting their preschool-aged children to eat. Usually their children are grown and have their own children, so I am not entirely certain that their memories are completely accurate. For the most part, though, every parent I know has at least one child who is a “picky eater.” I don’t know how much help I can be in getting your child to eat, but hopefully some of the strategies we use will be helpful to you. Because I taught preschool and Kindergarten before I had my own children, my husband and I formulated our plans regarding mealtime well before our first child arrived. I started by talking to the parents of the children I worked with who had healthy eating habits. I have picked up a few other ideas along the way from other moms and, admittedly, from signs in the pediatrician’s office.
Here are some of the guidelines we use in our house for eating. Glean from the list what you want, ignore the rest.
1. We eat dinner together as a family (and we do not answer the phone during dinner).
Both my husband and I ate dinner every night with our families growing up, so this was important to us. It is one of the best ways to stay in touch with the whole family in this busy day and age. There has been more publicity about family meals in recent years because studies are showing that children who sit down and eat dinner with their families on a regular basis do better in school, are less likely to use drugs and alcohol, and have healthier eating habits. http://www.poweroffamilymeals.com/Mealtime_Matters/
2. NO “kid food!”
This one is important to me because, well, I like to eat. I grew up in Louisiana, which basically means that our lives centered around good food…really good food. I’m not saying that we never eat macaroni and cheese or hot dogs or chicken nuggets, but we don’t eat them on a regular basis. We only eat them if my husband or I decide that one of those items sounds good. Take, for example, pizza. Pizza is considered by some to be a “kid food.” However, it just so happens that pizza is my favorite food, so we usually eat it for dinner once a week.
3. Mama makes ONE meal.
This is a rule I learned from the mother of one of my students who ate anything you put on a plate in front of her. I asked her mother how she got her kids to eat everything, and she told me this rule. She also told me that if the kids didn’t like what was for dinner they could get a bowl of cereal. (They didn’t keep any sugary cereal in the house.) She said only twice did her kids ever opt for the cereal. They would even eat sushi.
4. You must try one bite of everything on your plate.
If you try it and don’t like it, then you don’t have to eat any more of it…for the night. Sometimes my children will tell me they don’t like something, but when they try it, they are surprised to find it tastes good. Also, according to a sign from Gerber foods in the pediatrician’s office, it can take 10 to 15 tries of a new food before a person develops a taste for this food. (http://www.gerber.com/AllStages/Nutrition_And_Feeding/Trying_new_foods.aspx) This is why I keep making certain foods even when my children tell me they don’t like them. Two specific foods that we have had dramatically noticeable success with in our house are salmon and spinach salad. Also, it is very rare that a small child will choose to go hungry. They will generally eat at least one of the things you have made for dinner.
5. You are not required to finish everything on your plate.
When you force your children to “clean their plates,” you are essentially teaching them to ignore the signals their bodies are sending. This can lead to obesity later in life (and even early in life). Here’s the thing, young children are excellent self-regulators when it comes to eating. You have probably already noticed that they go through fazes of eating a lot and then eating a little. (My kids follow this cycle when they go through growth spurts. They tend to sleep a lot after they go through a period of eating a lot.) HOWEVER, if your children refuse to eat much dinner, but then want a snack 30 minutes to an hour later, you may have to do a little more encouraging. I recommend letting your child know that if they are truly full, then they may be excused from the table. BUT if they are hungry again later, their unfinished meal will be waiting for them.
6. Offer at least one fruit or vegetable at every meal.
This is a good way to make sure you and your kids are getting at least 5 servings of fruits and veggies every day. Offer them as snacks as well.
7. Your kids will be better about eating a variety of foods (read “vegetables”) if you are willing to try different foods.
This last rule is a tough one, but like most things in life, your children learn by example. You may be surprised by the things you now like. I didn’t grow up eating bell peppers because my father is allergic to them. I always thought I didn’t like them or only liked them cooked. I have since discovered that I really love peppers. My kids can’t get enough of them. They are now one of our favorite snacks. Keep in mind my earlier comment about trying things several times before developing a taste for them…this goes for you too.
If you are having trouble getting your children to eat a variety of vegetables (or in some cases, any vegetables at all), try this trick I learned from another mom (who learned it from her daughter’s pediatrician). When you are making dinner in the evening and your children begin to circle the kitchen because they are hungry and can smell the dinner aromas, give them raw vegetables to eat. If they are young enough to still be in a high chair, strap them in and place a few raw veggies on their tray. If they are out of the high chair have them sit at the table with some raw veggies and ranch dressing or hummus for dipping. Also, frozen peas (or other smaller frozen veggies) feel great on teething gums. My mom told me she used to give us frozen veggies as a snack and for relief for sore gums when we were toddlers.
This is just my two-cents on the matter of eating with small children. I hope you found something useful in all of my ramblings. I also have suggestions for dealing with low-blood sugar. I’ll save those comments for another post, though.