Q&A: etiquette–playgroup and personal property

Kathy, whose kids are all older and out of the house, writes:

"The concept of playgroups did not exist when
my daughter was young. She either went to
somebody’s house to play (referred to these days as a "play date" I believe) or
we just kicked her out to play with the other kids in the neighborhood (we usually let her back in at night LOL.)

Fast forward 20+ years.  Let me set the scene: I live in a townhouse. They are lined up in rows – with a sidewalk
leading from the main walkway up to the front door of each unit. There is a patch of grass between each
sidewalk – great place for kids to play. Each townhome has its own sidewalk and porch.

I came home from work yesterday and noticed that my next door neighbor had a couple of extra kids
outside with her. Looked
like a fun time for her two-year old.  (Actually I think he’s under the
age of 2 and she has a newborn, and a 7-year old, so it was nice to see
him getting his special attention.) I went inside, upstairs and changed,
etc. Came downstairs and opened the
front door – it was a nice evening and I wanted to let in some of the cool
air.

The small gathering of children had now grown to a
full-fledged play group; kids around age 2 – cute kids one and all, having a
great time with water toys, balls, chalk, etc.

I love children, and enjoy seeing them have fun, but when I
opened the door, there were several of the Moms ON MY FRONT PORCH – this is not a shared porch – it only goes into my
home. All along the walkway leading up
to my house were more moms – ready to leap at a moment’s notice to rescue their
little one if necessary (actually, most of them looked like vultures.) I was uncomfortable with having strangers on
my porch; my door was open; it felt like an invasion of my privacy.  I didn’t quite know how
to handle the situation, but I was leaving
soon anyway, so – I decided not to let it bother me.

So — now I am ready to leave.  As I walked out, a couple moms had to move just so I could
open my screen door. As I started to
walk down the sidewalk, I would have expected the moms to move so I could leave
– but they just stood there. I politely said "excuse
me" as I attempted to navigate my way to the main walk. One of the moms gave me the DIRTIEST LOOK. How DARE I expect her to move off of her spot
– I guess she figured I should walk around her – she wasn’t about to give up the space she had staked for herself!

These
are new neighbors — they’ve only lived next to me for a few months,
and I don’t know them at all except to smile and say hi.  I really
didn’t know how to handle the situation.  I guess the best thing will
be when I see the mom that lives there just to mention that I was
uncomfortable with people on my porch.  I don’t know, I am rather shy
and don’t like to make waves – so I’ll probably keep my mouth shut and
deal with it. 

This is not really a question — I don’t quite know why I’m
writing you.  I guess maybe I hope you could just give a word to your
readers to be polite when attending a
playgroup where there are shared spaces!

I’ve reread
and revised this email several times — I don’t want you to get the
idea that I am against play groups in the neighborhood. Quite the
contrary, I encourage all social interaction with small children.  The
more varied the better."

Whoa. I have absolutely no idea what to say about this, because I can’t even imagine this situation. To me this isn’t even in the category of etiquette. It seems beyond rude to deliberately antagonistic on the part of the playgroup moms.

I mean, I can understand overflowing into a neighbor’s front yard, but onto her porch? Only if I knew for sure that the person wasn’t home (and even then I’d feel guilty about it). And then being rude about letting the property owner walk on her own property? I’m stunned. It seems stupid and deliberately incendiary.

Is there any chance this is a regional thing? I live in New York City, where the concepts of outdoor space and personal property are very different from the rest of the country. (If it’s outside, it’s almost always public property.) Kathy lives in Southern California. Could the neighbors be from some other region where this is accepted practice?

What do you all think?

(And I do think that Kathy should let the neighbor know that she felt uncomfortable about the playgroup moms being on her actual porch. If the neighbor isn’t responsive, she might have to go to a homeowners’ association if they have one, but the first move should be to talk to the neighbor directly. An uncomfortable conversation, for sure. And how do you say to someone, "So, your friends are all rude jackasses, huh?" without offending? Yeesh.)

Linky Lou, round 2

In the comments to my post on clicking the ads to support my sponsors, Paula asked if there’s any way she can contribute directly to my babysitting fund. Thank you! The best way to contribute is to tell 3-4 friends about my site and encourage them to read every day. The more traffic I get, the more ads I can sell and the higher my rate per ad. And of course, please click through the ads, including my newest ad for MaMaMade baby carriers (slings, mei tais, and wraps), natural toiletries, and clothing. (I’m surprised more of you aren’t clicking the dog ad. It’s an online puzzle based on maps, clues, and math, that pays $25,000 to the winner–geeks’ delight!)

And now on to the cool links.

Momready.com is an online magazine with ideas and articles to "ease the everyday challenges of parenting." You can read the articles online, or sign up to get an email every day (M-F) with short informative articles. Their categories include "Boredom Busters" and "Magic Penny" (teaching kids about money), so the site is definitely worth a look.

Mombian.com bills itself as "Sustenance for Lesbian Moms," but Dana really has something to say to all parents. A nice mix of personal, political, and "none of the above," Mombian.com’s snappy style and well-chosen topics make it a daily must-read.

LargerFamilies.com is a site dedicated to families with three or more kids. The founder wished for one central site with info and stories about large families, so she started the site she dreamed about. There’s a daily blog (written by a bunch of different moms), an advice column, and helpful resources and links.

Meira sent me this link to a story from NPR. A researcher studied three groups of women with different parenting styles and found that there were advantages to all three styles, but there seemed to be a special advantage to a less rigid style of parenting. The study groups were tiny, and I think some of the researcher’s conclusions need to be examined more rigorously, but I think the basic idea that sticking rigidly to one style of parenting or another misses out on the basic idea that you need to parent the child you have, not the one the book says you should have. I’m going to look out for more research of this nature in the future.

Finally, just in time for vacation season, I read on ParentHacks.com (You do read it, don’t you? You should read me, then ParentHacks.com, then go on to your other daily reads.) that you can now sign up with the US Postal Service online to get them to hold your mail for you while you go on vacation. This could be either a major timesaver or a wicked practical joke, depending on how you use this knowledge.

Q&A: nap problems–switching from two to one, and nap strike while learning to walk

I’m of the firm opinion that there’s a solution to almost every problem in the universe. But sometimes the solution is that you just have to wait it out, and try to stay sane while you do. Problems involving sleep transitions are usually in that category. The irony, of course, is that during the transition is the time you’re most desperate for a solution, but is also the time when normal methods don’t have much effect. Here are two classic, textbook, super-common nap problems resulting from transitions.

The first is from Christine (who I miss!):

"Here’s where we are now: Max is 14 months old now.  His night sleep is
drastically improved.  He goes down easily at 6:30 to 7 ish and a
couple of days a week he’ll wake between 12 and 1.  The other days
he’ll sleep right through until 5.  He gets a snack at 5 and then goes
back to sleep until 7 to 7:30.

His naps are all undone now,
though.  I figured he was dropping one nap but the problem doesn’t seem
to be the morning nap, which he still takes willingly.  He’s refusing
the afternoon nap most days now.  His attitude tells us that he’s not
ready to drop that nap because when he doesn’t take it, he’s a (and I
say this as someone who loves him dearly) complete shitheel by late
afternoon.  We still give him some time in a dark room in his crib, and
he’ll jabber to himself for a while.

We’ve tried doing things to
really tire him – swimming mostly although we’ve also tried some play
areas where he has space to roam and new toys to bang.  He definitely
gets tired, but still no nap.

I’m wondering if we should try to
keep him awake in the morning and then have him go down for an early
afternoon nap only?  Should we just deal with what he does on any
particular day and know that on some of those days we will have a child
that will cry hysterically after he shoves too much tofudog in his
mouth, just because he’s in a crappy mood?  When this started I’d do a
long afternoon walk and he’d often sleep in the stroller, but it’s 100+
degrees here now and heatstroke doesn’t count as napping."

My suggestions for naptime problems (for kids who used to nap but are going through transitions) are always the following: tire them out by running them ragged in the morning to try to get them to sleep, and do whatever you need to to lull them to sleep (meaning strolling them until they fall asleep or driving them around until they fall asleep, then park somewhere and sit and read a book or knit or do Sudoku or catch up on email on your Blackberry while the kid sleeps). But Christine has done all that, and it’s not working.

The transition from one nap to two seems to be a lot like teething, in that some kids just wake up one day and there it is, while others agonize over it for weeks. My first transitioned to one nap over the course of 2-3 days (don’t hate me–he went to one nap at 11 months and gave up napping completely at 2 1/2 years). My second one has never napped well, and he’s having a heck of a time with the switch from two naps to one. So I’m living the same problem right now.

I think Christine’s got two options here. The first is just to try to wait it out until Max is ready for the full switch to only one nap. That’s going to suck. The other is to jimmy with his morning nap and try pushing it later by 15 or 30-minute increments every day to see what happens. It might be possible to find a sweet spot that lets Max sleep for longer than usual, later than the usual morning nap, that can carry him through to bedtime. And that will probably end up being his new naptime, since a kid taking only one nap almost always does so in the early afternoon.

Let me make this clear: I don’t think there’s any guarantee that pushing the nap back is going to make things easier in the short term, because Max might just be cranky while his body’s adjusting anyway. But I do think that gradually pushing his morning nap later and later will at least make Christine and her husband feel like they’re doing something about the problem. And if it makes the nap transition go faster, that’s even better.

The next problem is also a classic, written in by Kelly:

"My baby has always been well trained with naptimes and
bedtime. Every so often he would fuss or play, but usually never more
than 20-30 minutes. Either way, it’s never really interfered with his
schedule.

As of this week, he has learned to
stand in his crib…so now whenever I put him down he immediately pulls
himself up to standing position and talks to his toys. This probably
sounds like a nice alternative to crying, but the problem is that he’s
playing for 45-1hr, and then we he gets bored, he’s moving into
hysterical crying mode.

I’ve tried doing a couple of things:

First
I tried going in there every so often to gently lift him and lie him
right down, and said "please close your eyes." However, this really was
not working, and eventually, I think he thought it was funny.

So,
the next thing I did was completely ignore him and just patiently wait
for him to get bored, and want to sleep. However, as I mentioned above,
instead of getting bored, and lying himself down to sleep…he is
sooooo overtired at this point, that he’s crying hysterically.

Now,
I am all about "cold turkey" tactics…but this seems to require more.
I have followed a lot of different books which have helped me during
his growth, but none of the books seem to address this.

The
problem that is occuring now, is without a regular nap schedule, he is
so tired by early evening, so we put him down at 6:30/6:45pm, and he is
now waking up at 4:30/5:00am. I am finding it hard to get out of this
pattern.

Any thoughts or suggestions would be incredibly welcomed. This is very taxing on mothers for sure."

"Taxing" is not really the word I’d use. How about "makes you want to run away with the letter carrier." Or "cue the opening guitar riff from ‘Mother’s Little Helper‘."

But enough about me.

He can’t sleep because his body’s working on this whole standing deal. Even if his mind wants to sleep, his body’s not letting him. The only things I can say to do are the suggstions I always give–tire him out, run him around, stroll or drive him for naps. I wouldn’t worry about getting into the habit of strolling (although it’s not a bad habit to get into for the summertime anyway–he naps while you’re sitting outside drinking an iced coffee) since he’ll go back to napping once his body’s over this hump.

If none of that is working, I’ll suggest some homeopathic remedies* to see if they help his body relax. I’ve had some success with Chamomilla in getting a tense child to relax enough to sleep. If he seems to need more than that, I’d try the Hyland’s formula Calms Forte For Kids, which has a mix of different remedies all working together. (Reading the official description of Calms Forte, it also claims it helps with other sleep-depriving problems, like night terrors, growing pains, and sleeplessness from travel. I’m going to get some for our next trip.) Let me know if that works for your son.

Any "training" techniques you usually do are going to have no effect on his naps or sleep, since the cause of the sleeplessness is physical development. So try tiring him out, strolling or driving him to sleep, and using Calms Forte. If none of those help, you’re just going to have to wait until he’s through this spurt, and then he’ll go back to napping as if it never happened. I hope it’s only a few days, and not a few weeks! (And then the same thing will probably happen for a few weeks when he’s learning to walk.)

* For anyone not familiar with homeopathy, the treatments are extremely minute amounts of a remedy in a sugar pill that dissolves ion the baby’s mouth or that you can dissolve in water and give with an eye dropper. For the vast majority of homeopathic remedies there are no side effects for babies or nursing moms. If you don’t believe in homeopathy it doesn’t bother me in the least, but you could still try it just on the off chance that it’ll work. No side effects, relatively cheap (around US$5), what do you have to lose? In general, Hyland’s treatments are in a lactose base, while Humphrey’s and Boiron are in a sugar base.

(Are you wondering why I didn’t recommend Benadryl? Not that I would ever, ever recommend using Benadryl to get your child to sleep. But I hear that others do, so it’s worth discussing. From what I hear, Benadryl is useful to get your child to sleep in situations in which you really need the child to sleep, like long airplane trips. However, it’s that drugged kind of sleep, not real, refreshing sleep. So it doesn’t help in a situation when the child needs to sleep, like the naptime dilemmas above. If you give a kid Benadryl to sleep in a situation like Kelly’s it won’t achieve the real goal, which is to get him to sleep for a nap but also to sleep well at night. There’s a drugged rebound from the Benadryl that you’d be willing to deal with if you absolutely needed the child to sleep at one specific time, but that wouldn’t make sense if you were trying to get back into a good sleep cycle. Does that make sense? Again, I am not advocating drugging your child with Benadryl. But if you decided of your own accord to do so, do a trial run first, because it makes some kids more hopped up instead of getting them to sleep.)

Q&A: how to be a buttinsky

Amanda writes:

"Here’s a question that I think I already know the answer to, but I’d
love your perspective.  I’m not a mom.  I’m an aunt with a wonderful
brother, great sister-in-law, and an absolutely adorable nephew who
turns 1 this week.

I have a pretty good relationship with my
brother’s family, since we share elder care responsibilities and I see
them nearly every day.  I was very distant from my brother until the
last few years, when we grew closer through caring for our elderly
parents, so we’re just starting to have a real adult friendship.  My
SIL is a stay at home mom whose first language is not English, and she
doesn’t have many friends here.  I offer to babysit for them often, and
I’m pretty much the only person they trust to take care of my nephew.
To give my SIL a break, I try to spend about an hour a day with my
nephew so my SIL can have some time to relax or be by herself, and I
babysit for 2-3 hours about every other week so they can have some
couple time alone.  I’d be happy to babysit more, but my SIL doesn’t
like to be away from the baby.

My question is whether there’s ever an okay way to offer unsolicited
advice to a parent, especially since I’m not a parent myself.  I love
my brother and SIL, and overall they’re doing a great job with my
nephew – he’s happy, healthy, and growing.  I frequently defend their
parenting decisions to my judgemental mother, who thinks it’s
absolutely scandalous that my SIL co-sleeps with my nephew, still
breastfeeds him (she sees it as "spoiling" him, and he’s not even 1!!),
and that he’s never gone down for a nap by himself in a crib even
once.  My SIL’s never read books on Attachment Parenting or anything;
she’s just going by instinct and has done really well.  Since my mother
projects silent disapproval quite enough for the whole family, I’m
pretty much my SIL’s cheerleader, assuring her that she’s doing a great
job, etc. 

I do have some concerns and ideas,
though, and I’d like to share them with my brother and SIL, but I don’t
want to come off as a know it all or a buttinsky or alienate them in
any way.  For instance, I’m a little worried about his verbal
development, and since I’m an elementary school teacher, I have done a
lot of reading on the subject of language acquisition. So far, he has
said no words, not even "Mama".  I know that verbal development can be
slower in boys and can also be delayed when an infant is exposed to two
languages, but my brother and SIL don’t talk to him very much at all.
When I take care of him, I talk to him while I’m doing things, and he
loves to walk around a room with me and point to things while I say the
words for them.  In the short time I have with him, he really soaks it
up.  From what I know about language development, naming things,
repeating words, and having word rituals (like saying, "Do you want to
nurse?" every time you nurse) is really important for language
development, but they don’t do this.  They don’t have friends with
children the same age and aren’t into reading parenting magazines or
Web sites.  Is there any way I can share my ideas or suggestions with
them without alienating them?

Also, I’ve bought lots of board books, cloth books, and other books for
him, but they very rarely read with him – maybe once or twice a month.
They say he has no patience for it and wants to squirm and play all the
time, but I feel like they’re already giving up on reading to him and
both they and he are missing out on something really special.  When I’m
with him at their house I read to him as much as I can and, sure, he’s
squirmy sometimes.  I figure that’s just natural, but that he’d be less
squirmy if they had an enjoyable, snuggly, reading ritual, like reading
every night before bed with Daddy or something.  But how can I bring
this up?  (Or can I at all?)  Aside from buying them lots of books in
English and Spanish and reading to him in front of them, I don’t know
what I can do or if I should just butt my nosy self out.

So far, I’ve steered clear of offering any "assvice" whatsoever beyond
modeling this kind of language development stuff myself when I am with
my nephew in front of them.  But the older he gets, the more worried I
get that his little brain is really missing out on verbal stimulation,
and I worry that I should speak up now or I might regret it later if I
see he has verbal difficulties later on.

On a much more acute
and serious level, I’ve worried a lot about how much my brother and SIL
fight (verbally).  They’re newlyweds, they face a language barrier,
they have a new baby, and they’ve had a lot to adjust to.  They love
each other and adore my nephew, but they’re still learning to
communicate well and they are developing a really disturbing habit of
having scary, loud, screaming fights.  My mother had reported how loud
and scary their fights are and how awful it is that they fight in front
of the baby, but I blew off her criticism and told her to mind her own
business because she seems reflexively critical of them.  But one day
when I was stopping by, I happened upon one of these fights and was
horrified — I could hear them out on the street, with the baby crying
in the background.  I stayed outside for a few minutes wondering what
to do, but when the earsplitting screaming continued despite the baby’s
terror, I rang the doorbell.  When my brother opened the door, I smiled
and said something cheerful like, "Hi, everybody!  Sounds like you two
could use some time alone to talk, so how about me and Joey go for a
walk in the stroller?" and they were cool with that.  Afterward, I
wanted to say something to them, but again I didn’t want to be a
buttinsky. 

The backstory is that my parents were alcoholics and my brother and I
suffered through countless horrible screaming fights between them.
Neither was physically abusive, but the emotional abuse and sheer
terror of growing up around that much fighting really had a negative
impact on me (and I’m sure my brother as well).  So I really worry
about the baby and don’t want him to have to grow up like that.  I
think stepping in to take the baby for a walk that day and let them
cool off was okay, and I will not hesistate to do so if I come up on a
fight like that again, but is there any way I can raise the issue in
general?  Their marriage is not my business, but when I think back on
my childhood, I wish some other adult had stepped in and told my
parents to cool it, get into counseling, think of the children,
whatever. 

Any thoughts you have on this would be very much appreciated!"

I think you’re a caring person and a wonderful aunt to put this much thought into your nephew’s situation, and that your SIL is lucky to have you as an ally.

I wonder if a lot of the lack of verbal interaction your brother and SIL have with their son is a result of the problems they’re having between the two of them. Sometimes when a couple is having relationship problems they throw all their energy into the child as a substitute for interacting with and pouring love into each other. But sometimes feeling bad about your romantic relationship makes you pull into yourself and not have as much to give to your other relationships. I wonder if that’s much of the reason your brother and SIL aren’t as verbally interactive with their son as they should be.

Whether or not the silence is stemming from relationship troubles, the silence isn’t the biggest problem. A child can grow up happy even with a limited vocabulary. But it’s pretty tough to thrive when your parents are in constant discord. If you feel like you have the energy to throw into trying to nudge them gently toward improving their son’s life, I’d focus on helping them get their relationship back on track.

It sounds like there are two forces working to cause their problems. The first is that they have a child. I think people really underestimate how much strain having a child puts on a relationship. Even couples that have been together for 15 years before becoming parents will experience a total shake-up and reevaluation of their roles and priorities. Another dirty little secret of parenting is that it might bring you closer during the first few weeks you bring your child home, but almost every couple is having some problems 6-18 months out.

Including my husband and me. We suffered the strain, just like everyone else does, and were fighting all the time when our older son was an older baby. I didn’t want my son to grow up in a household with constantly fighting parents, so we needed to make some hard decisions.

We ended up buying the book Getting the Love You Want by Harville Hendrix, reading it, and doing the exercises at the end of the book together. It saved our marriage and made us a lot stronger as a couple. The concept behind Hendrix’s Imago relationship therapy is that the reason we’re attracted to the specific person we’ve committed to is that that person has characteristics, both good and bad, that we were conditioned to respond to in our childhoods. That means that when things are good, our partner can make us feel better than anyone else does, but when things are bad, our partner can hurt us more than anyone else can. The goal of the exercises in the book (and in weekend workshops run by Imago-trained therapists, if you want to do it all in two days with someone else guiding you) is to help you figure out what the hurts are that you each have, and how you can help each other heal instead of hurting each other (either on purpose or inadvertently).

Every time I mention this book (either online or IRL), someone jumps in to say that they did the book or did a weekend workshop and it changed their relationship for the better. It’s not a "miracle," because you do actually have to do the exercises for things to improve (about 2 hours each, 10 sessions total–we did them every Wednesday night after our son went to bed). But if both of you want to find a way out of the mess you’re in, this book will give you a framework to start putting things together again. it would also be helpful to read even if your partner doens’t want to cooperate. (The book refers to "husband" and "wife," but Hendrix has a special note at the beginning of the book stating that the method applies equally to same-sex couples, and many of the weekend workshops are either welcoming of or specifically for same-sex couples.) At $10, the book is the cheapest, best DIY couples therapy you can find, whether you’re having mild problems or are on the brink of divorce.

It sounds like the common background of a scary childhood is the entry you can use to discussing your brother’s problems and offering him the book. You can approach him by saying that you both know how scary it was to grow up with parents who were fighting and that you wish someone had butted in to say something to your parents. You know you’re risking making him angry, but you couldn’t live with yourself if you didn’t point out to him that his fights are going to have the same effect on his son that your parents fights had on the two of you. You know he doesn’t want his son to grow up with that, so you hope the Hendrix book can be helpful to them. I hope that he won’t get too insulted about your mentioning it, because you both went through this traumatic childhood together and know how awful it is for a child to be in the middle of constant fighting.

The second force against your brother and SIL is that they’re isolated from peers. They may have lots of friends, but unless they have friends with young children, too, they’re not going to feel like they have real peers who can understand what they’re going through. It doesn’t seem like much, but it can be incredibly stressful to be the only people you know in your situation. They need other parent friends. In addition, your SIL needs at least one mom friend who speaks Spanish.

How they’re going to make these friends is the problem. You’ll have to look around to see where parents of toddlers can find new friends. Parenting groups or classes, classes for your nephew, church or other religious organizations with parents’ groups, library storytime, the playground, etc. If they’ll go to these places they could meet friends there. If not, you might have to get a little creative, and set them up the way you’d set up a single friend with your attractive neighbor. Find another couple with a baby of similar age, and tell your brother and SIL that this couple needs some kind of help or advice or something like that and wants to meet them. (Can you tell I’m not that great at setting people up?) You need to think of some pretense for meeting and hanging out that will entice your brother and SIL to do it.

I think getting your SIL to make some mom friends who speak Spanish isn’t going to be as hard a sell. If she’s with your nephew all day she’s bound to crave some adult company, and she’s probably hungry to speak her native language sometimes. The problem here is going to be finding them. You could look up your local chapter of La Leche League (I know I always mention LLL, but it’s a great local resource even if you’re not going to the actual meetings) and call the leader and ask her if she knows of any mothers’ groups in Spanish. You could see if any local Hispanic cultural associations have playgroups. Or you could try Googling your city name and "madres" or "niños" to see if any groups pop up. Once you’ve found a resource, you can offer to go with your SIL or do whatever she needs to help her clear her schedule to go.

I think that an improved marriage and more social contact with other parents will have the natural result of making your brother and SIL more receptive to casual suggestions about interacting more with their son and reading to him. It is extremely frustrating to try to read to a kid who just wiggles away or tries to chew the book apart, but it’s a normal stage you just have to press through. If they are feeling less stressed in general, and are getting some positive feedback from other parents about a more interactive style, they’ll probably just instinctively fall into better patterns with your nephew.

Whether or not feeling better about themselves and their relationship makes them start giving their son more verbal and mental stimulation, you’ve done the best thing you could possibly do to help your nephew by helping his parents be happier. And as he gets older he’ll probably want to spend more and more time with his reading aunt Amanda.

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Scroll down to help some readers, please.

Reader help needed

I’ve got three questions that readers need some help with.

#1: A reader has been advised by her doctor to get the Mirena IUD for post-partum birth control. She’s used NFP/FAM (charting) as birth control in the past, but isn’t willing to trust it right now since she doesn’t have her cycle back and isn’t getting enough sleep to chart accurately. She’s wondering if anyone has any experience with Mirena that they’d be willing to share.

#2: Bobbi writes:

"OK, I have one of
those rare beautiful children who prefers to put herself to sleep.  She (10
months old) WILL NOT fall asleep in your arms.  So what’s the problem you
ask?  How the heck am I supposed to cut her nails when I obviously cannot
do it while she’s sleeping?  Currently I have to physically restrain her
while she’s in her highchair and go as quickly as possible while she screams her
GUTS out – no fun for either one of us, but it is the only way I can sort of
keep her still while ridding her of the razor claws…*sigh*

If you have any
advice on this I’d appreciate it.  Otherwise I’ll have to resign myself to
the screaming highchair torture until she’s old enough to understand that I’m
really not trying to kill her."

I’ve got absolutely nothing. My first child slept through all the ambulance, fire engine, car alarm, and other noises of New York City, but would wake up instantly if we tried to cut his fingernails while he was sleeping. For years we did the highchair torture routine, but then he started biting his nails. I can’t really recommend that. Someone reading must have something that works.

#3: Clare writes:

"Any book recs for toddler emotions?  Our normally sweet tempered, easy going boy (2 yrs 4 mo) has suddenly started hitting whatever’s in front of him, including favorite books, us, and himself.  We’re planning a big move (from the east coast to the mid west; we’re leaving in about 2 weeks), so things are a little crazy now, and I know he’s feeling totally disrupted even though we’re trying to keep his schedule as normal as possible.  I know he’s anxious and frustrated, and we’re trying to help him label his emotions. When he does hit us, we put him in a very short time-out mostly to calm him down; when he’s about to hit us, we remind him to count to three and then tell us that he’s __________ (angry, scared, frustrated etc).

He LOVES books and being read to, so I thought a couple of books on feelings might be in order.  He has a fantastic attention span for a little guy; he insists I read Curious George Goes to the Hospital several times in a row, and he will gladly sit with his dad to hear a chapter or two from Milne’s Winnie the Pooh.  So, simple board books might be too basic, though if one has great pictures of sad, angry, scared, etc faces, I think it would work."

Before we get to books, I’d like to suggest that Clare take a look at my post about dealing with aggressive behavior in 2-year-olds. I think Clare’s son is having more emotions and urges than he can express, even if he’s very verbal, so it will probably help him if he has a physical way to get out his urges to hit. (The post tells about what we did when my son was going through a particularly awful biting phase that helped him manage his biting urge to stop biting people. I think it could translate directly to hitting or pushing.)

Now, on to books about emotions. I’m not that knowledgable about books (we tend to stick with our favorites a lot here). But I looked in my copy of the excellent and worthwhile book Reading With Babies, Toddlers and Twos to see if they had a list of books about emotions. (The book is filled with list after list of different kinds of books that young kids love. If you love lists, or children’s books, or lists of children’s books, you need this book.) They do (of course), and the books that look like they’ll fit what you’re looking for best are Feelings by Aliki (a book of facial expressions), My Many Colored Days by Dr. Seuss, and Mama, If You Had a Wish by Jeanne Modesitt.

I recently discovered Fuse #8, a blog by a children’s librarian (I read some of her well-thought-out reviews of kids’ books on Amazon.com and clicked through to her blog). She writes about books and authors and being a children’s librarian and other random stuff.

And I’m always in awe of Raising WEG’s Jody’s ability to catalog and digest the books she and her kids read together. Check out her Library Books category archive for lists of the books they checked out each month and her thoughts about those books. She’s got other thoughts about books in her Books category archive.

Does anyone out there have any good book suggestions for Clare?

Please repond to one, two, or all of the reader questions. Knowledge is power.

Q&A: WAHM to SAHM

Jennifer writes:

"Currently my husband
and I both work full time.  Our daughter (18 months) is in daycare.  I
am also currently 9 weeks pregnant, due in January (if all goes well).  The
daycare/both parents working "full time" routine has not worked well for
us.  Some families are able to make it work; for us, it has been
awful.  My daughter gets sick at least every two weeks, and some months she
has gone to daycare only a few days in the entire month.  My husband and I
have flexible work schedules, for the most part, so we can take turns staying
home with her while the other works odd hours to make up for missed days, but it
has just been so very difficult, and I have almost no leave accrued anymore for
maternity leave when baby #2 arrives.  Also, whenever she’s sick, she
sleeps terribly, so we both are up with her more, and that leads to us being
sleep-deprived and getting sick ourselves.  We have considered whether I
could quit my job and we could live on his income in our current situation, and
we just can’t make it work.  Things would be extremely tight if not just
plain impossible, and we’d have no safety net whatsoever–a surprise root canal
would decimate us–we don’t have dental coverage as it is right now.  We
really need my income.  So, we’ve decided that at least when baby #2
arrives, we will try to find a nanny for both, because it will become more
financially reasonable with 2, and that should at least limit the number of
illnesses. 

So here’s the second
part of my question.  My husband was recently offered a job in another city
that pays a bit more, life costs a bit less, they have better
insurance for less, and we think we could swing it there on his income
alone.  On the one hand, I have all these lovely fantasies of hanging
out with my kids and exploring a new town, but on the other hand, I have
worries–worst case scenario, I imagine myself alone in a new town with no
family or friends with a two year old and a newborn rapidly going insane
and a husband who has to "prove himself" in a new job and is absent a lot. 
I certainly am not trying to put you in the position of saying which I should
do, but what should I do?  Just kidding.  I want to stay home with my
kids for a couple of years.  I breastfed my daughter until recently, and
pumped at work for a year.  I’d love to be home and breastfeeding baby #2
and not have to stress over the pump and milk production all the time, which for
me was an issue.  I’d love to spend the next six months hanging out with
just my daughter until baby#2 is born, so we can have some special time together
before she has to share me.  I think my question is more–what should I do
to prepare myself for this transition?  Can I do it?  And how can I
avoid the worst case scenario?

Also, let me add
here that my husband loves what he does and we would not be living where we
currently live if not for his job.  We make about the same amount, but my
job is just a job to me, whereas his job is what he truly wants to do, so in
terms of equity, fairness, and how we made the decision that I might stay home,
that’s basically it, and also, his job is very specialized, highly competitive,
and geographically very limited, whereas I could pretty much work
anywhere.  And last but not least, all of the above is personal TO
ME.  I know discussions of staying at home versus working outside the home
can become heated.  I am not asking which is better, or making assumptions
as to what choices women should make.  All of the issues expressed in
the letter are specific to me."

Jennifer wanted to make sure that everyone knows this isn’t about WAHM vs. SAHM (vs. WOHM), and I want to do that, too. I don’t think there’s any moral high road when it comes to deciding how to keep your family alive financially and emotionally. (I have a bunch of problems with the way US culture and economic policies treat parents and families, and think the concept of "choice" about working or not is moot for most women, but that’s a different post entirely.)

It sounds like you really want to stay home while your kids are little. If you really want to, and you can make it work financially, then you should. Since you’re not attached to the city you live in, and your husband has this great opportunity, it sounds like the perfect time to do it.

You’re correct in thinking that being a stay-at-home mom can be isolating, so you need to start forming a network of friends as soon as you get there. Before you move, go to an office supply store or Vistaprint.com and print up a bunch of cards with your name and email address and (cell) phone number on them. Put a few in your wallet and diaper bag and everywhere else you might need them. Whenever you meet a parent you’d like to hang out with, give her or him your card. I didn’t do it with my first son, and did it with my second, and it’s made making new friends so much easier because there’s no awkwardness. Now it’s just handing the person a card and saying "Maybe we should have a playdate for the kids. Call me and we’ll set one up." or "Would you email me the name of the store you bought her shoes at?" or whatever other pretense you’re using for further contact.

Since you nurse, I’d start with the La Leche League. Go to a few meetings and check them out to see if there are any moms there you might want to hang out with. Do the same with storytime at the local library, and the mom-baby movie (if there is one in your new city). If you’re religious, start shopping for churches or temples as soon as you get there and make friends with other parents there. Go to meetup.com and look for SAHM groups in your new city. See if there are other specific internet groups for your new city that can hook you up with playgroups. Yahoogroups is a good place to start, as is momsclub.org. Or you can just Google your city + babies or kids or parents to see if there are any local sites or lists you can join.

You could schedule in some time while you’re house-hunting in the new city to go hang out at the playgrounds and check out the local scene. Strike up some conversations with local parents about how to meet playgroups. They should be able to give you some good leads, and you may even make some friends with one or two of them. That way you’ll be set up with a friend or two by the time you land in your new city.

It’s a lot of work, but if you go at it like it’s a job for the first few months, you’ll end up meeting enough people that you’ll be able to find 3-5 that you want to hang out with regularly. You won’t like everyone you meet, so it’s basically a numbers game. The more people you meet, the more cards you hand out, the more people you make playdates with, the more you increase your chances of finding a few people you really enjoy.

I’d also suggest looking for a local chapter of the group Mothers and More (http://www.mothersandmore.org/). It’s a group that’s dedicated to helping women who are "sequencing," which means going in and out of the workforce while also raising children. Meetings give support to women who are going from one work situation to another, and also help with networking and giving suggestions on keeping your hand in by doing some part-time work if you want to.

If you find that you hate being at home full-time with your kids (and that’s OK! really it is!) or that you actually can’t swing it financially, you can find a part-time or full-time job in the new city. But if you don’t try SAH now you’ll always wonder about it and wish you had.  You’ll probably end up in the paid workforce again when your kids are older anyway, so why not take the time now to be with them if you have the desire and can manuever your finances to make it possible?

If you’re willing to put in the work it takes to make a network of friends for yourself, then you’re set. It won’t happen overnight, but you’ll have plenty of time before the new baby arrives to get set up.

Good luck. (And if you want to tell us where you’re moving, there might be a reader or two in your new area who could have some playgroup leads for you.)

Q&A: helping a toddler understand that Mommy is sick

Sevin writes:

"I have a spirited 21 month old daughter. I work during the day and
she has a wonderful babysitter whom she adores. In the mornings, I used
to get up with her at 7-7:30 feed her her breakfast, play with her
until the babysitter came and then leave for work. She would wave me
bye bye and go back to playing. At night, we always had the same
routine. I prepared dinner while my husband played with her and then
while he cleared up the dishes I gave her a bath. We would both read
her stories and say goodnight and tuck her into bed, turn off the light
and she would go to sleep on her own (most nights, some nights she
wanted some company in the room while she fell asleep).

Well,
about 5 weeks ago, I found out I am pregnant with our second baby. A
few days after I found out, I was hit with the first trimester fatigue,
but also with nausea like I have never known before. I was diagnosed
with hyperemesis gravidarum; I could not even keep water down, I lost 8
lbs in 3 weeks and needless to say, I became very incapacitated. So the
above routine was disrupted, she still had a similar routine, but my
husband had to do it all. I am now on nausea medication that takes the
edge off, so I can function a little, but I feel sick quite often still
and I just have 5% of the energy I used to have. To top it all off, I
was put on bedrest for a threatened miscarriage and I am not allowed to
pick her or anything heavy up.  So over the last 5 weeks, I have been
spending a lot less time with her, appearing and disappearing from the
family room (usually to rush to the bathroom), unable to play certain
games with her and unable to pick her up. Her bedtime routine has
gotten longer, because my husband has to do everything himself, rather
than the parallel fashion we accomplished these tasks. So she ends up
going to bed an hour later and having trouble falling asleep on her own
and calling for me. When she sees me, she is extremely clingy and does
not want her father or the babysitter to even touch her. She has huge
fits when I leave the house or even the room. My husband is convinced
it’s terrible two tantrums and we should ignore her and let it blow
over, but my instinct tells me that she is scared of the fact that she
does not see me much, is anxious about me not being around, knows
something is different but cannot comprehend or express her fears and
hence has "anxiety tantrums" rather than the "manipulative 2-year old
tantrums". I am trying to be more comforting and lenient during these
times, but my husband says I am simply spoiling her.

What
is your take on the situation? Any advice to survive this pregnancy
without causing her huge anxiety? What can I do to help her ?  How do
sick parents with small kids deal with situations like this?"

Congratulations on your pregnancy.

It seems pretty clear to me that she’s upset and anxious because you’re sick and she doesn’t have as much access to you as she used to. She’s probably scared and worried and can’t express it except by clinging to you and throwing tantrums. Add that to the fact that she’s two, and there’s no way she can be calm about it.

The good thing about 2-year-olds is that they have great receptive language. Even if she can’t tell you how she feels, she can understand a whole lot. So I’d start by talking to her about how you’re feeling very sick right now and can’t spend as much time with her and can’t put her to bed, but you’ll feel better in a few weeks.

You could even describe exactly how you feel, so it’s not mysterious. Pretend to throw up, and let her pretend with you if she wants to. Laugh about it and make it seem not as scary. She needs to know that you can’t pick her up and do all the things you used to, but not be afraid that there’s something so wrong that you’ll never get better. Try to give her as much time as you can, even if it’s just snuggling together on the couch or in bed.

And ask her specifically to help Daddy get her to bed on time. You may have to cut out a bunch of steps and order in food and skip some baths. It’s important to stick to her normal sleep schedule, because being sleep deprived by even an hour can make her mood and behavior lots worse. This is a temporary crisis, so go on lockdown and only do what’s necessary. It might also help if you put a chair in her room and sat in it while she went to sleep. This wouldn’t be too much physical activity for you, and it would help her feel like you were really there for her when she was trying to go to sleep and scared that you wouldn’t be there when she woke up.

I would definitely not connect your feeling bad with the new baby (you don’t want her to blame the baby for hurting you). And I wouldn’t ignore her tantrums. She’s asking you for reassurance the only way she knows how. It’s clumsy and counterproductive, but it’s all she’s got. You may end up with a shadow until you start to feel better and can resume taking care of her more, so if you just have to hole up on the couch hugging her for half an hour every day, that will help her better than anything else you can do.

Make sure she understands that you are going to get better, and that it’s not her fault. You’ll all get through this together. Encourage your husband to take some breaks for himself. He’s got to be stretched emotionally and physically from all of this, too. Poor guy. (And have you tried acupuncture and/or vitamin therapy for the hyperemesis?)

Q&A: iron supplements for babies

Jennifer writes:

"our peanut’s iron was tested early at 9 months because she was not
eating but a few baby spoons full of cereal a day… her iron was low
at only 29%… she was then prescribed a vial-tasting liquid iron
supplement… i haven’t started her on it yet b/c i know this daily
regimen will backfire on already difficult eating habits (she really
resents the spoon, and isn’t the most efficient self-eater to no
surprise.) to cover all basis i had my iron tested (which has a history
of being low), and surprisingly it was great at 42%… since peanut’s
iron was tested a month ago, i’ve started to cook some of my meals in
cast iron and she eats a little bit better (i’m pushing the cereal with
prunes)… for the meantime, i figured to remain diligent until her 12
month check up to see if her iron levels have changed…

what
do you think? i’m sure you’ve heard of this nutritional problem
before… anything else i can do, or do you think i’ll have to succumb
to the supplement?"

In my state (NY) there’s a mandated lead test at 10 months (it used to be a year) that also includes an iron test, so I’ve had both my boys’ iron levels tested. My older son* had a slightly low iron level, so we were also give the iron supplements.

While I’m sure that in 10 years there will be research showing the iron supplements aren’t good for kids for some odd reason, I have no theoretical objections to them. My objection is purely practical–they taste like ass. I mean, really, really bad. Like licking a rusty nail (and not the good kind) mixed with cheap perfume.

More power to anyone who can get that stuff into their kid, but it was never going to happen in our household. I got enough bruises the first two times I tried it to think it would be worth it to keep trying. (As an added bonus, when your kid spits it out all over his shirt, it leaves a permanent stain. Hooray!) The only side effect of mildly low iron is low energy (not my son’s problem), so I knew nothing really bad would happen if I didn’t get the iron supplements into him.

Instead, we took a three-pronged approach to iron supplementation involving Floradix, cast iron, and Farina Stix.

Floradix is a liquid mixture of iron and a bunch of herbs (nettle wort, spinach, ocean kelp, etc.), plus juice concentrates and honey. It’s not particularly delicious, but it’s far more palatable than the iron drops, and you can mix it with juice to disguise it. (Most adults could just do a shot of it with no problem, but kids would probably need to have it mixed with juice. I think it tastes a lot like Jägermeister.) I could get it into my son once every day or every other day. Every little bit helps.

You’ve already mentioned cooking with cast iron pans. I did that, too, to try to get a little more iron into the foods we ate.

I also made my famous Farina Stix, which babies and toddlers seem to love to eat. They’re made with either Cream of Wheat or Farina, both of which are high in iron. Here’s the recipe:

Moxie’s Famous Farina Stix

* 2 servings worth of dry Cream of Wheat or Farina
* enough canned/boxed chicken or vegetable broth to make the Farina (Read the label–many broths have MSG, which you don’t want.)
* a couple of tablespoons of roasted red bell pepper, chopped into tiny pieces (very high in Vitamin C, to help with absorption of the iron)
* salt
* olive oil

Heat the broth to boiling in a saucepan and add a little salt for flavor (if the broth isn’t already salted). Pour in the farina and stir as it cooks. Boil it until it’s nice and thick, like polenta. Stir in the minced red bell pepper (not too much, or the farina won’t hold together). Dump the hot farina out on a cookie sheet or piece of aluminum foil on the counter, and spread out so it’s about a third of an inch thick or so. Let it cool and harden for around 15 minutes.

When you come back to it, heat a little olive oil in a saute pan (or cast iron skillet) while you cut the farina into strips. Make them the size an older baby or toddler could hold and bite into. Fry each piece of farina in the oil until it’s nicely golden on both sides. Drain on paper towels or a cooling rack.

Let these cool before you give them to your baby to eat. They’ll keep for a few days in the fridge, and can easily go along in a little container or baggie to eat on the run.

Does anyone else have any food suggestions to get more iron into babies and toddlers?

* My younger son’s iron level was fine. I have no idea why, although I did introduce solids to them completely differently. With my older son I started with fortified rice cereal and all the other iron-fortified cereals, then moved on to mashed vegetables and fruits, etc. With my younger son I just fed him table food he could chew from the get-go. No fortified cereal. There’s no way to tell with an n of 2, but this makes me think more about point #3 from my post about introducing solids, about our bodies losing the ability to process the iron in breastmilk once we start eating iron-fortified foods. I wish I could fast-forward 30 years to find out what the research is going to show.

Q&A: getting back to normal “down there”

A reader writes:

"I have read your preventing PPD posts with interest, but I noticed
you didn’t mention the physical toll of giving birth. I wound up with a
cystocele after giving birth (3 hours of pushing plus forceps), and
while pelvic floor therapy has helped somewhat, things are still not
right. The Today sponge came back on the market but I can’t use it
because it won’t stay where it’s supposed to. Sex was excruciatingly
painful at first and is less so after the PFT, but sometimes afterward
it feels like everything is going to fall out. I have felt like giving
birth damaged me irreparably and it’s hard to imagine going through it
again. So I guess I’m wondering, does everyone feel like this? Does
this feeling go away?

Another question is, I have seen you heartily recommend Kegels
in comments on other people’s blogs, and I wondered if you would care
to elaborate. How many should I be doing? What kind? How often? Most
importantly, how on earth do you remember to do them?"

This reader’s question sounds like her damage from pushing was more serious than most women experience. From what I know from hanging out in playgroups and the internet, most of us are back up and feeling pretty normal down there again within a couple of weeks or months. (Or days, for second or subsequent children, for some of us.) Whether or not we feel like having sex because of the touch issues and all that postpartum stuff, and whether or not we’re having issues with lubrication, most of us have regained (or are Kegeling our ways to regaining) pelvic floor integrity.

I guess I figure a good common-sense test about whether healing is happening normally would be to judge things the same way you did when you were having nipple pain during the first few days of nursing: If it makes you suck in your breath and curse a little at first, it’s normal, and should get progressively better. (And you should use Astroglide or another good lubricant.) If it makes you want to cry, it’s not, and you should get some expert help.

Now why this damage happens to some women is a whole big issue. I think there are some women who have fast births ("precipitous births"), in which the baby kind of whooshes out of them faster than their bodies can open up all the way for. But I think a lot of damage to the woman’s body is caused by birthing practices in Western hospitals, and could be avoided if more emphasis was placed on the mother’s health and less on speeding labor and delivery along as fast as possible. A generation ago, the problem for women was having a forceps birth with a huge episiotomy. Now forceps aren’t so much in vogue, but it’s become the standard (a standard based on going against the evidence, I might add) to strap women to the external fetal monitor the second they walk into the hospital. This means that a woman is laboring on her back for most of her labor, and gravity isn’t helping to move the baby down. When it’s time to push, she’s often starting pushing with the baby way up in her pelvis, so she pushes long and hard for hours. That much sustained stress is bound to cause some damage.

I’ve also noticed a new trend of having women "push themselves dilated," meaning that they’re told to start pushing at 8 or 9 cm to try to "help open them up." A friend of mine was told to start pushing at 7 cm! I cannot imagine the rationale for this, since the danger of bruising and swelling of the cervix is strong. Even if it eventually works (my friend pushed for 4 hours, then was told she "wasn’t a good pusher" and given an emergency c-section), it’s causing unnecessary damage to the mother.

If I could intitute widespread change to improve the health of women’s pelvic floors, I’d fully staff L&D floors so there were enough nurses to perform manual heartrate monitoring every 10 minutes (which gives the same fetal and maternal health outcomes as continuous external monitoring does, but without the collateral damage), do away with continuous external fetal monitors for all but high-risk mothers, encourage walking epidurals and have the mothers be up and using gravity until it was time to push, and conduct pushing on birthing stools instead of in the lithotomy position. There are all sorts of ways to modify things so women’s bodies don’t get damaged from childbirth. The reason we don’t do them is that they don’t help hospitals make money, and we aren’t demanding them.

But back to the issue at hand–what to do now. I called in a guest, who had the same issues as our questioner. She ended up getting surgery to correct the problem (after also trying pelvic floor physical therapy, which is something I never even knew existed). She sent me the following comments:

"The more I learn about the "traditional" method of treating
prolapse issues, the more vocal I am becoming about women demanding the
type of surgery I had done.  Unfortunately, as it is a fairly new
procedure, there aren’t many doctors certified to do it but the results are worth all the effort to locate one.

For starters, I would recommend your reader get in touch with a urogynecologist through www.augs.org.
They are specialists who have spent extra time learning about how all
the girlie-bits fit together with the other organs in the pelvis. It’s
a fairly new specialty and has only come of age in the past 5-7 years
as women are demanding better and more effective solutions to pelvic
floor disorders.  The surgery I had done is called a Gynecare Prolift,
where Gortex mesh is inserted to help support vaginal walls (Johnson
& Johnson is the manufacturer of the mesh). This surgery has been
done in Europe for several years with excellent success and was only
introduced in the US in March of 2005.  Consequently, doctors who are
certified to perform this surgery are even fewer and further between
here in the states.  Knowing what I know now, I would drive/travel
whatever distance to have the surgery performed by a qualified
urogynecologist.  The very next morning after surgery,  I woke up and
could tell "things" were different–anyone who has had prolapse issues
knows just what I am talking about.  For the first time in years, it
didn’t feel like things were…falling."

If you’re in pain and discomfort from pelvic floor damage or prolapsed uterus, don’t suffer in silence. Seek out a urogynecologist and get help. You’re not damaged forever.

Now, for those of us who just need to get the tone back after using the amazing vagina to push out a baby, or for those of you who had c-sections but are leaking urine just from having been pregnant, it’s time for Kegels. The vagina is just like any other muscle in the body–the more you use it, the stronger it gets. So to get tone back in your lady business or to stop leaking when you cough, do Kegels. Here’s a good summary of Kegels. My favorite is the "elevator Kegel." Start tightening a little more in defined bursts, like you’re moving your pelvic floor up up up like an elevator. Then move it down down down floor by floor to release. These are going to rebuild the muscle fibers in one direction. To rebuild in the other direction, do a bunch of smooth hard squeezes (just like you do when you cough).

The best time to do Kegels is as soon as you deliver your baby (doing them immediately postpartum will help you heal, even if you have stitches). I tried to do them for a few minutes whenever I was sitting down to feed the baby for the first few months. (Like you need another thing to remember. But you might as well be doing something for yourself while you’re sitting there feeding your child. Just don’t squeeze away during the whole feeding session or you could give yourself a sore muscle.) Now, a year out, I just do them while I brush my teeth. It’s a couple of minutes a few times a day, but it makes such a difference.

If anyone wants to offer data points, feel free to comment anonymously (stick a fake URL in the URL box) or email me privately.