Coping with night terrors

Yet another topic from It Gets Better: Things That Rarely Happen To Older Kids: Night Terrors.*

Dawn, who has a 16-month old son, is feeling helpless about the night terrors he's experiencing. It seems like there's no real cure (as we've concluded here whenever we talk about them), so she's looking for coping techniques. And ways to not feel so helpless.

Which goes along nicely with what may be turning into this week's theme of "Sometimes it just sucks and you're really not incompetent."

So, who had or has a child who experiences night terrors? We never had them, but apparently what differentiates them from bad dreams is that a kid will wake up from a dream and be able to e comforted and talk (if they have words yet) about the dream and come back to waking life. A night terror is just possibly-not-dream-generated fear expressed with screaming and terror that a child has a really hard time coming out of and doesn't seem to have that same dreamworld-as-separate-from-awakeworld component.

Is that an accurate description, for those of you who've dealt with night terrors?

And how did you weather them? Do there seem to be things (in egenral or just for your child) that are triggers (Foods, exciting holiday times, family changes, etc.)? Or are they random?


* I apologize for the poor colon usage.

Does it ever get better?

"Anon for sure" left this comment on Thursday's vent post:

"My baby is almost 1 year old, and I am getting scared that things will not get better, as everyone always says. Used to sleep very well at night, and is now crying out and woke up today at 4am. She is also more irritable during the day.

Everytime we see the light, it gets snatched away from us. We are so tired of troubleshooting, coping, trying to patch up sleep snafus, etc. And this isn't really a sleep issue. This is battle fatigue from dealing with one stressor after another. I'm pissed off that we try so hard, research extensively, invest so much – and yet we have so few smooth periods.

We have a lot to be grateful for, we know. It is just so hard to have perspective. We work so hard to be good parents, and it is problem after problem. When do we get to enjoy ourselves? People say it gets easier, but I don't know if I believe them anymore."

Anon for sure, honestly, I think people who enjoy having babies are nuts. Like seriously insane. I hated it both times, and didn't even realize how much I hated it, because I loved my kids and thought it was just parenting and therefore what I'd signed up for.

But now that they're 8.5 and 5.5? Whoa. It's a whole different experience. I'm actually making decisions and having discussions and working on things with them that are interesting and that make an immediate impact, and sometimes hurt my head in a good way. And they sleep all night and deal with their own poop, and tell me if they're hurt. Yes, there are tons of things that are still Not Fun, like getting them to put on shoes, and explaining stuff like puberty and racism and divorce, and forcing them to do their homework and write thank-you notes. But we get to talk about books and ideas and feelings and thoughts, and they beat me at Wii golf and dance in the living room to Taio Cruz and can navigate from the back seat when I hand them my phone or a map.

It does get better. But seriously, not for awhile. You are not alone. Many many many of us loathe the baby/toddler experience with a capital F-U.

I was talking to an old friend of mine who is pregnant with twins after a lengthy fertility battle. She told me straight out, "I'm just going to try to make it through the first few years alive, because I don't like babies." Right on, sister. Because you know what? You don't have to like parenting a baby. You just have to do it. You keep showing up, and remember that they'll be babies for a couple of years, but they'll be your adult children for decades. And that's the payoff. Your job right now is to give them the love and boundaries and guidance and tools to be amazing adults while keeping yourself open enough to be worthy of being their parent. And then they become fun way before they're actual adults, so those years between toddler and adult are just a bonus.

That doesn't mean that there aren't hundreds of beautiful moments in the baby/toddler stage, when you feel the light of heaven shining down through your child. But the ratio of beautiful moments to mind-numbing exhaustion gets geometrically bigger as they get older.

Parenting is hard, y'all. How do you stay sane during the Red Zone Years? Or do you just accept that you can go under for awhile and come back with a vengeance later?

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Even those of you not in the US who don't really care and don't get the day off.

(Look down at the previous post for vents if you're having a bad day, and down at the post before that for talk about gifts, handmade gifts, and venting about commercialism.)

Today I am really thankful that I

  • am healthy
  • have an awesome job with a company that makes video games that teach math to kids. Some days my whole job is showing people how to jetpack. Love. (If your 3-8th grader is bored this weekend, download and register for the tournament and play for free at They might not even catch on that they're doing math. Muahahahaha.)
  • have two healthy, bright, silly kids
  • am no longer married to their dad, but get along with him well enough that we can write a blog together
  • am spending Thanksgiving with two lovely friends who are a great model of what committed love really is (even though they can't legally get married yet in NY)
  • have been writing this blog for FIVE YEARS this week! Thank you for being here with me!

Now you.


Stimulating the economy

Tonight's the last night of Candletime, and tomorrow's American Thanksgiving. The day after tomorrow officially begins the end-of-year, Christmukkahstivus consumer shopping extravaganza.

It's kind of not my business, but I do want to say two things:

1. A few big retailers have decided to be open on Thanksgiving Day to try to get people to come in and shop, even before Black Friday. I thinkin this is wrong. Thanksgiving is one of the only non-denominational holidays we have in the US, and it's about being with family and friends. If you HAVE to work (transit workers, hospital workers, etc.) that's one thing. And thank you! But for retailers to force hourly, not-well-paid clerks to leave their families and suck in a few dollars from people they're also luring away from their families to shop, well, it's twisted. And shameful. So I'm not shopping for gifts at physical stores on Thanksgiving Day. (I will be taking the subway, though, so thank you MTA workers, and I hope you get double overtime for working tomorrow.)

2. Small businesses. If we really want to make an impact on the economy with the money we spend this holiday, we'll spend it with small businesses. Local businesses and internet businesses. So please consider buying from your local stores on Friday and Saturday. And if you're itching to spend money on Thanksgiving Day, spend it with a nice internet retailer who is talking with family while you press "Buy" and will fulfill your order on Friday. Like, say, everyone over at

Who are you going to spend money with online or locally? Do you sell on Etsy or another website? Share your ideas and promote your own store in the comments. Tell us what you wish someone would give you, and what you're going to give other people, whether it's handmade or a mass-produced product from a big retailer.

(I wish someone would give me this crocheted brass necklace, or the Mint hard surface floor cleaner robot. And I'm not posting what I'm giving people because they all read this. But I'm knitting a bunch of stuff with yarn from this seller.)

Q&yourA: LEEP procedure for pre-cancerous cells of the cervix

I got an email from someone who wishes to remain anonymous. She's in her early 30s and doesn't have any children yet but is hoping to have some in the next few years. Her doctor has discovered precancerous cells on her cervix and has scheduled her for the LEEP procedure to remove the precancerous tissue. She's afraid that this will hurt her cervix and affect her ability to carry a pregnancy.

Can anyone share experience either with precancerous cervix diagnosis, the LEEP procedure, or fertility issues after a LEEP procedure? And, of course, with dealing with having precancerous cells inside her body?

I don't want to interrupt the amazing discussion on the preschooler years, but I wrote a piece in the Huffington Post! Read and comment, please. Then come back and keep talking about how hard 2 and 3 and 4 is and how to get through it.

Q&A: Setting limits with an almost-three-year-old without setting yourself up

J writes:

"How do I let go and acknowledge that my almost-three-year-old is programmed to be incredibly challenging – as I suppose they all are at this age – without losing my mind or letting her rule the house? Help. I'm in an endless loop of setting limits, enforcing limits, and getting mad."

Wow, have we all been there. Except for those of us who haven't been there yet but will be. Before I get to my half-answer and ask for everyone else's suggestions, I want to point out two things that might help frame this whole testing-limits phase (which seems to last from around 2 1/2 to right after 5 for many kids):

1. Many many many kids go through this, so it has nothing to do with how effective you are as a parent that your kid is testing limits. It's a combo of their personality (and honestly, being a tester is probably going to help them in later life) and how you've structured things, and having structured things so your kid feels safe testing boundaries and your love is not at all a bad thing.

2. Your child is not going to end up spoiled or ruined or out of control if every moment at this age is not a teachable moment or if you just give in sometimes, or even a lot. As long as you can maintain a basic level of trust between you, not enforcing each boundary all the time isn't going to turn your kid into Lindsey Lohan, so choosing harmony over policy enforcement is a completely valid course of action. Just check yourself to make sure you're not creating a feedback loop that increases tension because you're inadvertantly rewarding bad behavior.

2 1/2. A lot of kids at around 3 1/2 are such little cauldrons that even if you do completely give in and let them steamroll you they will still make a tantrum out of your giving in. If you can't win anyway, then just doing it "because I said so" is an awesome policy.

And now for my half-answer: Having had two kids make it through these years with all of us still alive, I am convinced that how difficult this stage is is entirely a function of the combo of your personality and your kid's personality. Which means that your attitude has a large part in how it all goes, if not the actual interaction, then how much energy you lose from the interaction. (For me, I got angry sometimes, but mostly just felt defeated and so, so tired at all the conflict, so it was really about energy management.)

I felt like actual enforcement was not as important as having an explicit policy. So that when the child was violating the policy, I'd stop and verbalize the policy and then decide specifically if I was going to allow him to go against it or not. It didn't really change what happened in the moment, but gave me more of a sense of continuity instead of chaos.

I also stripped down to the essentials. If I didn't actually deeply care about something, I didn't care at all. In other words, I was choosing my battles, but at an extreme. There was a lot of humming of "Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose" in my head during particularly testing times.

I tried to remember what I was good at. Most days it did not feel like parenting was one of the things I was good at, so I'd grab at whaever else I could: making pie crusts, knitting, listening to people's problems and helping them find a course of action, managing client expectations. In another few months or years this crappy strife-filled phase with your child is going to be over, but you have the rest of your life to be really good at driving to work by the back route no one else knows about and shaving 7 minutes off your commute. So celebrate your prowess.

Apparently other people have great success at turning things into a game. That wasn't my thing, but I know some of you will be able to talk about it in the comments.

Anyone else? How did you deal? How are you dealing now?

Q&A: breast dried up after possible mastitis

E writes:

"My son is 3 months old, I don't breastfeed him exclusively because of my low milk supply. However, I only give him about 120ml of formula a day and I breastfeed the rest.

My right breast has no milk now! Over the weekend I woke up and my breast was full and hurting, so I breastfed him from it and it stayed hurting me the whole day. Now its been 2 days, it doesn't fill up and when I pump barely comes out! 10oz maybe. Since I'm back to work, I pump at work and now I can't fill a whole bottle. What do I do?? Is it over for my right breast? I already have low milk supply, one breast won't be enough for him."

We've seen this before, unfortunately. I've heard lots of women report that after a bout with mastitis that side dried up. Usually mastitis would be more than just one day of "hurting" (when I had it it was hot and cold flashes, dizziness, shooting pain, and red marks on my breast all night and for about 6 hours after I started the antibiotics the next day) but E might have higher pain tolerance than I do, or her system may be more sensitive than mine is. If she already had low supply, just an inflamed duct could be enough to knock out her supply on that side.

Having heard so many stories from mothers (and from LCs) about trying to resurrect supply on a side that's dried up, I'm not sure anything E does will bring back her milk on that side. And many of us can't pump as much as we can give a baby when we're nursing, but E needs to pump, so not being able to get much from the other side is a problem for her.

I'd like to hear from anyone out there who kept nursing (and pumping) from one side, even knowing you didn't have a full enough supply to nurse exclusively. We all know that any breastmilk at all that E can give her baby is good for him, and that the nursing time she has with him when she's home is good for him, too. But when you're the only doing all the work for what feels like such a small amount, it can be hard to know it's worth it.

Has anyone else been in a similar situation? How did you keep knowing you were doing something good for your child? Words of encouragement for E?