Category Archives: Crankypants

More unformed thoughts on those rough times (3 1/2-year-olds)

So I've been thinking a lot about this 3 1/2-year-old thing. And how it really seems to me like all the "difficult" stages seem to be at times that double: 4 months, 9 months, 18 months, 3 1/2 years, 7 years, 14 years. I don't know if that means anything, except that if you're 28 maybe you're having a tough time, too. And 56 might also be rough…

Anyway, it seems like the difficulties start out more weighted toward the physical but become progressively more emotional as the people get older. So that first rough stage at 4 months is mostly about being fussy and not being able to sleep. Then at 9 months it's not sleeping but more generalized crankiness. 1 months seems to be a tie between physical and emotional distress, and then by 3 1/2 it really seems to be mostly emotional (even if all of this is caused by some physical process of development in the brain).

It feels to me, from being on the outside of it, that the developmental spurt that's happening somehow seems to remove the protective emotional layers somehow, so that all the person's emotions are right there, waiting to bubble over at any second. The person on the inside can't process or deal with or control them. Which is why they get stuck in a "Pick me up!! Put me down!!" loop. It's like they have an exposed nerve, and any time anything brushes against it they just go off from the overload.

I've noticed that when I'm feeling emotionally fried, my child being in one of these emotional wack-out times just sets me off, too. But when I'm on an even keel, my response just instinctively seems to be more one of "Oh you poor sweet little thing. Let me give you a hug."

Does this resonate with anyone? About any of the stages? About yourself? Or do you think there's something different or more going on?

Q&A: The one where I feel like a shitty parent

Alisha (who clearly needs her own podcast, just for her email subject alone) writes:

Is there some fussy-farting-limits-testing-booshity thing that happensaround the 7 month mark? Because the boy and I have been going ten
rounds lately and he’s kicking my parental ass.
I don’t know if it’s the teething (it looks like his bottom eye teeth
are coming in. I thought the top ones came before the sides?) or some
sort of developmental thing (he’s 32 weeks but he was 2 weeks late so
developmentally that’s 34 weeks? He’s starting to sit unassisted for a
few
seconds and crawling is imminent, although I’ve been saying that for
weeks) or if I’m just being punished for being smug, but my son is back
to non-sleeping. It started a few days ago – a little extra rocking
here, another round of Lullabye there. Small stuff that was easy to
dismiss. Clearly a month of cushy snoozing (five minutes of rocking and
he was out until 5 am; easy breezy naps) made us soft. Now he’s taking
forever to settle and once he is asleep it doesn’t last. The minute his
head hits the mattress he flips onto his back, grabs his blankie, and
shoots us a self-satisfied grin.

FOOLS!!!

That’s
what the grin says, I swear it. You can practically count the
exclamation points in his eyes. Lather, rinse, repeat (two to four more
times) and you’ve got yourself one pissed off mama.

It’s
the joy – the exalation! – that makes me so crazy. It feels like a
giant F- you to my parenting skills. We did CIO at 4.5 months and after
16 miserable, worthless days ended up with a baby who was terrified to
go to sleep. Then we instigated a rock/jiggle/hum routine that worked
wonders – until now. I’ve tried leaving
him to cry again which sends him to Shitsville in a large, wailing
basket.
I’ve said fuck it and gotten him up which leads to a grouchy, bleary
eyed babe and a difficult day. According to the books (here
we go…) he’ll nap better if he sleeps longer at night so I should
ignore him until 6 am. (Actually they say he should be sleeping until 6 am which makes me want to punch them in the nose.) There’s no way: his diaper is practically deteriorating by 4:30 (the outside actually squishes, it’s so full) and I defy anyone to get a baby back to sleep after an early morning wipe down.

I’m
trying to convince myself that this is just a phase (maybe he’s transitioning from 3 naps to 2?) but there’s an
awful lot of You’re Not The Boss Of Me happening lately, which is great
developmentally but panty-twisting, mommy-wise. (We’ve introduced solids and he’s starting to
refuse the bottle. Sure, the nipple is good for chewin’ and have you
ever just opened your mouth and let the liquid spill out all over
yourself?
Apparently it’s awesome. Awesome enough to do over and over and over and over.)

Excuse me while I take a moment.

Is this crap normal?

Oh, this sucks. I’m so sorry, although your email was super-funny and I thank you for that.

It sounds like a whole bunch of developmental, movement, and teething stuff all combined into a big ball of suck, plus the 37-week wonder week. Also, it sounds like your son may be really smart, and that’s leading him to testing his independence a little bit earlier than usual. (Just like in that movie with L.L. Cool J in which they’re training the sharks and then the sharks get smarter than the human are and attack.) It’s tough with the smart kids, because lots of times they don’t sleep as much or as well as the norm, and they get frustrated when they’re aware of things but can’t make their needs or will known.

At this age, he’s probably too young even for sign language (you could start with the signs and he might understand at this point but probably doesn’t have the physical skills to make them himself yet). And sign language likely won’t help with the sleep. But talking him through every single thing that’s going on all day might. Verbalizing feelings for him, like saying “You’re angry!” when he’s clearly mad, and stuff like that. I know people think a 7-month-old is too young to communicate, but their receptive language kids in so early, and you might as well err on the side of attributing more maturity to your kid than less.

But back to the main point, which is that the books are full of crap. OK, not necessarily pure crap, but the stuff in those books works for a certain subset of kids. And it’s not working for your son, so for your purposes, the books are crap.

If it makes you feel any better, I got 6 emails since Wednesday about naps, so there’s something going around. And there isn’t anything in your email that’s jumping out at me as obvious that you could fix. If you’ve checked the usual things (propping the head of the crib, cutting out solid for a few hours before bed in case it’s indigestion, temperature check noises check, etc.), then it’s just time to open it up to sympathy. You’re doing a great job.

Readers, it’s Friday. And yet none of us will have a weekend because our kids will be up at the same freaking time as usual on Saturday morning. Sympathy for Alisha, primal scream for yourself, or pie recipes all appreciated in the comments.

Q&A: early rising again and again and again and again

Remember back when waking up was like this every morning? (work safe, but put on your headphones)

Yeah, that was before you had kids. Five (5!) emails in the past two weeks from people whose kids are waking up between 4:30 (shoot me now) and 5:30 every day. I know this is not a new problem, and we've tossed at around a bunch of times in the past, but it does seem to me that it goes in cycles. Three of the five emails I got were from parents of 7-month-olds. And we're having wacky weather all across North America at least (torrential rains, snow in June, or blazing heat waves, depending on where you are on the continent).

I'm going to hypothesize that it's the combo of age (and where your kid is at in the timeline of developmental spurts, growth spurts, physical milestones, and teething), personality, and the change of seasons/weather.

I think there are all sorts of things you can try to stop the early waking. One of them might work*. Or none of them will work.

I think, like anything else having to do with sleep, that one of two things is true:

a) It's a phase, and like all other annoying phases, it'll pass. So you need to figure out how to deal with it until it passes.

b) Your kid is hard-wired to wake up early. In that case, you need tofigure out some way to work around that until your kid is old enough
that they can wake up early and amuse him/herself and it won't be
dangerous.

I think a) is far more likely, although I know some adults who can't seem to sleep past 5:30 no matter what, so it's probably just a personality thing for a certain segment of the population. In any case, it's time-delineated in that you won't have to deal with it forever.

Take some deep breaths, talk to your partner about working out some sort of schedule so neither of you takes the hit all the time (and both of you never take the early-rising hit together), assess exactly how much your kid needs from you in the morning (if your kid wakes up but it just happy playing alone in the crib or bed you don't actually need to be awake for that), and know that the day will come when you'll have to pry your child out of bed in the morning with a crowbar. I hear.

Oh, and just so you know I'm feeling it, too, I was wakened at 5:35 and then 5:50 this week by my younger one. After the second time, I told my older son that they weren't allowed to come out of their room until 7 am except to go to the bathroom. It worked once. I'll keep you posted about any future success.

* The top-rated things readers recommend: black-out shades (that you buy or make from black-out fabric you can buy at fabric stores, or cardboard over the windows at night), changing the temperature of the room, checking to see if there's some sort of noise that happens at that time of day (neighbor starting a car to go to work, loud dog, etc.) that's causing the waking, and bumping bedtime earlier by 30-60 minutes (yes, it's counterintuitive).

Reader call: Car seat rage

The other day I schlepped my cats and both boys almost a mile in the snow to the vet (uphill both ways), and wondered "Why don’t I live someplace where I can just have a car??" But then I got this email, and felt like a jerk for my car-free self-pity:

"Please help….my child hates being in a car seat and facing backwards. She’s only 7 month old, so turning the seat around is a long wait. She can manage if someone sits in the back with her, but if no one there she throws tantrums. I’ve tried toys, singing, holding her hand while driving, but nothing seems to work. this winter is extremely cold, and its impossible to walk outside for long periods of time, so the idea is to go to the mall. But with this problem its even harder to drive to the mall than slippery roads and cold wind blowing in our faces. Please suggest something that I can do to make her more content with not having someone next to her for 15min drive."

I can remember a 6-hour drive with a 6-week-old screaming almost the whole time. But that seems to have wiped my car seat rage memory. In previous posts on this topic people have suggested that the baby might be carsick facing backwards, and that that may be contributing a lot to her anger. I’m not sure what the solution would be. You could try the Sea Band wristlets. I’d walk into the health food store and ask if they had anything homeopathic (not herbal) to alleviate motion sickness and try that. You could try a remedy like dramamine, but some kids react badly to it.

Readers? Any other suggestions, either of ways to deal with the screaming or to stop motion sickness if that’s contributing to it?

Q&A: fussy baby while nursing

N writes:

"My four month old and I got past the initial difficulty beginning nursing (pain, latch problems, mastitis, the usual suspects) and we were off to a really good start with the whole breastfeeding thing.  She is gaining well and healthy.  But she often does this thing at the breast that drives me crazy.  She kicks, screams and thrashes while nursing.  If I hold her where her feet can hit the back of the chair, she’ll kick against it, moving her whole body away from the breast while she’s latched on (not pleasant).   If I position her where her feet can’t kick against the chair, she’ll instead scream and whip her head back and forth while latched on (also not pleasant).  Taking this as a sign she’s not really hungry, I’ll take her off the breast, which is met with shrieks of protest.  Put her back on the breast, we get a repeat showing of Wrestlemania: Baby Edition.  It doesn’t seem to be a low supply issue as it’s always easy to express milk when she’s doing this, but I don’t really believe it’s that the let down is too strong for her either. Her older sister did this too when she was nursing, but this one is much worse about it.  I can’t quite figure out what’s going on here.  Any suggestions?  I’ve been stretched about as far as I can be – literally!"

Yeah, I remember this. I think it may be some kind of gastrointestinal growth spurt of some sort, but it was perplexing because there were no other symptoms of other gastric distress–no excess farting or crying 20 minutes after a feed (the classic symptom of a lactose intolerance) or anything like that. It sounds like you don’t ahve any of this other stuff either, just the donnybrook on the breast. I never did figure out what caused it, and it went away in about a month or so on its own.

In the meantime, what I did was try to put as much pressure on my son’s tummy as possible while he was nursing, and for whatever reason that seemed to work enough that he could finish an actual feed without going all Goodfellas on me.

The way I did it was by doing all my nursing (except for the middle-of-the-night nursing, which didn’t seem to bug him) reclining on the couch. I’d have him facing down on top of me, stretched across the length of my body, perpendicular to me. So we were a lowercase t, and I was the vertical line, and he was the horizontal line across me.

That meant that he was nursing face down, but he also had all his own body weight on his tummy on top of me.

I have no idea if this will work for your daughter, but it’s worth a try. Readers, can you offer up anything else that she can try if my tummy-pressure thing doesn’t do the trick?

Valentine’s Day denouement

My older son brought home a valentine on Friday night that he’d made in class for his little brother. It was a card, with front and back made of red construction paper to which pink and white cut-out hearts had been glued. The inside was a sheet of the writing paper they use in class. It was formatted like a regular letter (date in the upper right, greeting, body, closing) and was correct and formal and sweet. Now that’s what I’m talking about–a Valentine’s Day-related project that was teaching something but also celebrated the day in a way my son could enjoy.

Rebecca, I didn’t say you had to eat the butter. Just that it was fun to make. 😉 And I really have no problem with candy, just a big onslaught of it when I had no prior warning that it was coming. (Shhh–I also didn’t bake anything for the Valentine’s Day bake sale at the school.)

Valentine’s Day rant

I’m kind of a Valentine’s day crank, in that I think it’s a complete Hallmark holiday, and doesn’t have much emotional resonance for people unless it makes them feel bad because they’re single. (Kind of like Mothers’ Day, in that women who are mothers don’t need one special day, and women who aren’t mothers either don’t care or are hurt by it.)

But I’m willing to do the whole kid valentine thing, and dutifully asked my older son if he wanted to make valentines for his classmates. No. Did he want me to buy valentines to give? No, he didn’t want to give any. OK, I thought, and took him to school in the mandated red shirt-blue pants combo because we’re team players, even if neither of us likes raisins or clowns.

Last night when I opened up his backpack, what seemed like dozens of valentines spilled out, most with candy attached.

I’m not super-excited about all that candy (the little one stole some of it, scarfed it down, and then had a super-colossal poop this morning) in general. But it’s also the guilt factor. Am I The Bad Mom because I didn’t force him to do this valentine thing? When did giving candy to every kid in your class become de rigeuer? Will he be shunned at the playground for being merely the recipient of cavities and not the giver of cavities? Isn’t the freaking 100th day enough for one week?

Do you think this has anything to do with Martha Stewart, and this whole notion that we should be churning our own butter* and throwing the most fabulous parties all the time?

Gah. I just want to go home, watch my stories (DVR’d Lost and You Are What You Eat), eat some of his candy, and go to bed.

* Actually quite fun: One pint of whipping cream, a touch of salt, a big jar or tupperware with a tight seal. Pour cream in container, seal tightly, and shake until your arms fall off. You’ll have lumps of butter and whey. Spread the butter on something yummy and eat. Drink or discard the whey.

Sugar substitutes and metabolic syndrome

I’m assuming you guys have seen this article about the study that found that even a can of diet soda a day increases your risk for metabolic syndrome by 34%.

Or this piece on Good Morning America about the article. (You have to sit through an ad first before the story starts.)

I wonder if this is going to make companies stop putting sugar substitutes in otherwise healthy things, like yogurt and food for kids.

I think this also puts the nail in the coffin of soda consumption for many of us. Too dangerous to drink sugar substitutes, and way too dangerous to drink high fructose corn syrup. Plus the caramel color is bad for us, and so is the carbonation.

I guess it’s back to water. (Until Passover, when some of the stores in NYC stock kosher-for-Passover Coke sweetened with regular sugar, which I’ll indulge in.)

I also wonder if this is going to give stevia (a no-calorie sweetener made from the leaves of the stevia plant) any traction, since it’s just a refined leaf, not a chemically-altered substance.

The 2 1/2-3 year sleep regression

Can we just talk about this sleep regression?

I talk a lot here about the 4-month sleep regression (when you feel bewildered and bleak), the 8-9-month sleep regression (when you feel defeated and hopeless), and the 18-month sleep regression (when you feel insulted and irate). But I haven’t talked much about the 3-year sleep regression. We’re in the middle of it here (although he won’t be 3 until May), so i thought maybe some of you would like to complain along with me.

The other sleep regressions seem to be characterized by frequent wakings throughout the night, but this 3-year one seems to be all about not going to sleep at bedtime. When he first goes into his bed at 8, and is still awake at 9:45, it starts to piss me off. There’s only so much water a kid can drink, the monster-scarer is in full effect, the temperature is fine, and no you cannot come out and read with me. And, what’s more, your brother needs to stay asleep so he won’t be tired for school tomorrow.

Honestly, at this point I don’t even care if the little one actually goes to sleep, I just want him to be quiet so he won’t wake up his brother. (The progressive lowering of standards also seems to be characteristic of the 3-year sleep regression.)

What I’ve finally come to is that I can provide him the opportunity to sleep, but cannot make him do it. We have a temporary peace with his staying in his bed quietly (so he doesn’t wake his brother) and my not caring if he’s asleep or not. I definitely don’t think it’s something he’s doing on purpose. I think it’s the same thing that happens at the other sleep regressions–the kids are working on something mentally or developmentally, and their bodies and minds just simply can’t sleep right then.

This too shall pass.

Anyone else want to complain about the 3-year sleep regression? (And, moms of older kids, is there one coming at 6 years?)

Business travel suggestions for leaving kids

Overheard on the bus. One old lady to another: "You have five grandsons! How many do you really need?!"

Laugh? Cry?

Too much to do, and not enough time, so you guys are getting the short end of the stick.l Sorry about that.

Can we talk some more about business travel and leaving your kids? I haven’t traveled in months, but have to go away for three nights next week. It’s getting harder and harder to leave my 2 1/2-year-old. He gets more and more upset that I’m gone.

Here’s what I’m doing already:

  • Leaving in the morning instead of the night before, so that I can see the kids and have breakfast with them.
  • Calling every morning so they hears me before they starts their day. Then calling again before they go to bed.
  • Talking about where I’m going ahead of time and finding pictures on the internet so they can picture it in their minds.

What else do you have? I only have to go every few months, but it’s beginning to really suck, even when the actual trip for me is fine.