Friday, June 28, 2013

How to survive being a sometimes single parent (without losing your mind)

Oh how you legitimately single parents are going to laugh at this post.  Laugh, throw tomatoes and give your forehead a little palm.  And to you, I bow down.  You are the masters.  You're gonna wanna look away from my drivel immediately.

For everyone else, though, it's tough to do the single parenting gig.  With Casey out of town a lot (we're currently surviving enjoying day seven of eleven), trying to singlehandedly fill all roles necessary in the raising of small children 24/7 while also maintaining your sanity is no small task. 

So here are my top ten tips for not losing your cool, Homer Simpson style:

1. Simplify.  PBJ instead of spaghetti for dinner?  Do it!  Run the dishwasher - even if it's only half full - instead of handwashing to save half an hour?  Absolutely!  Take serious stock of the things that are really necessary in the course of a day - and the things that aren't - and focus on those. 
2. Plan ahead.  Make sure that you give yourself the option of doing only the important things while solo parenting by taking care of the tasks which aren't "child friendly" while you have a partner in crime (aka a husband).  The DMV and two small children are not compatible.  Don't plan that errand while you're alone.  Or you'll go crazy.  True story.
3.  Nap.  Ernest Hemmingway once said, "I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I'm awake."  While we all know how that one turned out for him (and if you don't, hint: it wasn't good), the truth is that without sleep, the cranky pants go on for everyone.  Solo parenting means the ever-present potential for poor rest through the night, and lots of pressure on every moment throughout the day.  Naps all around are good for everybody's mood and attitude.
4. Fun-something every day.  "Fun" here means anything from a trip to Target, the pool, a picnic or an actual play date.  Anything that gets you out of your normal environment and helps keep them doing something besides testing your patience.  
5. Sing.  Or dance.  Or do whatever you do to be silly, most especially when tensions are high and you (or the littles) don't feel like it.  Yesterday I made up a song about a tornado and sang it with a silly southern accent. At the top of my lungs.  I was, like, really tired.  But it made everybody laugh, and Leah asked me to sing it again and again.  More importantly, it saved us in a moment that could have easily gone south. 
6. Say YES as often as possible.  When you are the only one around to field the endless barage of can I haves and will you dos and whys, it gets really easy to get into the habit of just saying NO.  Can I have some icecream?  No honey, it will spoil your dinner.  Can we go to the pool?  No honey, we have to go to the store.  I hereby give you permission to STOP this behavior.  There are so many things in life that you have to say no to because they're either not safe or not practical at any given moment.  When you solo parent, get in the habit of saying yes to requests that aren't unreasonable.  Who cares if they eat icecream before dinner once or twice?  Does it really matter if she goes to the store wearing a princess dress?  If you can't say yes, offer two alternatives that both work for you, and let the kids choose between them.  Everybody (even a three year old) likes to feel that their input is valued and heard. 
7. Don't be a nag.  Seriously.  Because nobody likes a nag, and neither you nor your children benefit from your nagging.  Kids take for-ev-er to do anything.  #1 just accept the fact that it will take you 15 times as long as you expected to complete even the most simple task.  #2 only hang around with people who understand and empathize when you planned to meet at 10:00, which quickly became 11:15 and you actually showed up at 11:35 (that may or may not have happened to me yesterday). #3 empower your littles to do better.  Instead of huffing all exasperated-like, "I asked you to put your shoes on ten minutes ago, and you only have one on!" say, "I like that you put one shoe on, what do you think the next step is?  Let's do that!"  Always lead with the positive.  If there isn't any positive and you're ready to blow your top, invent some to lead with.  Grind your teeth and force a smile and say  "I like how creatively you're playing with your toys, but do you remember the job Mommy asked you to do?" I promise this is waaaaay more effective than nagging. 
8. Mobilize the troops.  Yes, you are the only adult in the house.  No, the success or failure of your daily life/adventures does not rest solely on you.  Kids LOVE to help.  It's good for them to help.  They learn independence and perseverence and how to overcome challenges.  They get a taste of success, and they like it.  Give them a job they can do independently - even if it might not be totally easy for them - and then celebrate the crap out of it when they complete it.  Don't have enough hands?  Ask your little one for help carrying stuff to the car.  Let them find their cereal (their usual cereal, not the one with marshmallows) in the grocery store and put it in the cart.  Let them clean up the living room and sort the toys.  Let them fold their own clothes, even if it isn't perfect.  Doing is better than doing it for them.
9. Know your limits.  And stick to them.  Be aware of what makes you go nuclear, and have a plan in place to deal with it.  It's okay to give yourself a time out.  It's okay to turn on the TV for half an hour because you're at the end of your rope or put a crying baby in his crib for 15.  It's okay to be strict about something because you know you'll lose your crap if your kids do that thing all the time.  It's okay to go to the store even though you need nothing, simply because you know you can't sit in the house and be nice one second longer.  It's better to let her cry in her room for a while than yell at her.  Know your limits, because those limits will absolutely be tested.  It is better to walk away and take a break than say something in anger that you can't take back. 
10. Love on everyone (including yourself).  The best way to make the transition from "just getting through" until Daddy gets home to happily living your life while he's away is to accept that it's going to be tough, and love everybody through it.  Give those extra hugs.  Read the extra story at bedtime (don't look at me like I just asked you to climb Mount Everest.  I know you're tired.  Do it anyway).  Find at least ten nice things to say about each of your children every day.  Sometimes every hour.  And for the love of all that is holy, build in opportunities for you to rest when you need them.  Put the kids to bed early.  Let them watch an extra hour of TV.  YOU NEED REST TOO!  Not just because you're tired and you feel like it, but because you're a better parent - more patient, more capable, more understanding and empathetic when you're not exhausted or at the end of your rope.  Parenting on your own is a big job, so don't feel bad about needing a break here or there. 

Try to remind yourself that this time goes sooooo fast.  It's so hard sometimes, but good Lord if it isn't worth it. 

Thursday, June 27, 2013


My sweet little boy at 10 months:
The kid loves to stand.  He's all about climing up on anything and everything he can reach.  His favorite is probably this gate, as he can do it easily, but he also began standing in his crib this month, as well as pulling himself up on cabinets, tables and the couch. 

He's getting pretty good at multi-tasking, and can bend and reach as he stands fairly effectively.
And the baby gate no longer contains him, because he's pretty sneaky and can get just about anywhere in our house.  Especially if you leave him alone for more than 30 seconds.
He climbed up through the gap in the railing, in case you were wondering.  Yep, that happened.
He loves to army crawl, but he's really working on lifting himself up off the ground into the more "traditional" crawl.


He loves to play with toys.  This is probably what he spends the majority of his time on.

And, of course, he loves to put things in his mouth.
He is having a tough time sleeping again.  Not through the night, thankfully, but he struggles to fall asleep during the day and wakes often because he's more interested in standing and playing.
When he sleeps, he loves to cuddle up with this quilt.  He'll settle for any blanket in a pinch, but his favorite is the blue and pink one that once belonged to Leah.  Okay, it's mostly pink with some blue.
He weighs 20.8 pounds, which means that his growth is slowing down from it's crazy rocket speed.  He wears12 month clothing, but I think he'll be in 18 mo by the time his birthday rolls around. 
He loves music and looooves to dance. 
He's practicing walking with support.
He is such a little mimicker.  I've heard him say the following words:
LeeLee (YeeYee)
Logan (Yogan)
He copies the dogs when they bark, and I swear the other day he was looking intently at the dog and said DOG and started barking. 
He recognizes tons of words, and if you ask him about most items in our home, he'll turn his body and look for them. 
He's an incredibly happy baby, until he's not.  He still screams often, and he likes to make himself miserable.  For example, he hates the sun, but he won't let me put a hat or sunglasses on him.  He'd much rather tell me about how much he hates being in the sun.  He gives me lots of panic attacks, because he screams as if he's on fire over the tiniest things.  I'm still programmed for his sister, because if Leah had ever screamed like that she really would have been on fire.  He does it as a matter of routine, and I don't think I'll ever get used to it.
This kid of mine.  I don't know what I'd do without him.  We love you to pieces, sweet baby.
Oh, how fast that first year goes.

Monday, June 24, 2013

I'm starting a food revolution. Wanna come along?

So here's the story from our pediatrician about her own son that has me re-thinking the way I've been doing things:

"When he was about 8, my son was diagnosed with extreme, off-spectrum ADHD and early precursor symptoms of bipolar disorder.  I have a friend who is an MD and a nutritionalist, and so we took him there in the hopes that we might be able to help him make some small changes that would help his behavior.  The nutritionalist told us that, often times, the preservatives and additives in our food can severely alter behavior as a child grows.  He put us on a strict no additive, no preservative diet, and the results have been amazing.  Now 12, my son shows absolutely none of the symptoms he demonstrated four years ago."

And I was all, whaaaaa?!  All that from changing his diet???  And then I was like, somebody should talk to all those parents with out of control 8th graders...

This story has me in something of a tailspin, and we're totally trying on a new way of living here in our house. 

You guys?  I'm not even buying my bread, I'm making it.  We're talking top to bottom, complete transformation. 

I've always felt like I do a reasonably good job of making wise choices for our family in terms of diet.  I'm not an extremist.  I go organic on the foods I know are pretty dirty, and I try to make informed choices for both budgetary and health reasons. 

But I've never been one to cut out everything.  Until now.

Those Goldfish I was buying?  Guess what little gem of information I discovered: After baking, they're sprayed with artificial color and preservatives that the FDA doesn't require them to include on their ingredients list, since "technically" they're not an ingredient.  Even though your child will be consuming them.  Tricky, right?

The Cheerios I was giving Logan?  Yeah, they have unlisted BHT in the packaging that totally rubs off on the O's.  Spectacular. 

So here's a list from my doc of foods that contain preservatives/coloring/salicylates etc that can have negative effects on kids as they grow, and what to do about them:

Instead of:                                 Try:
Store bread                                Rudi's or Ezekiel brands
Ritz crackers                             Late July, Sunshine HiHo, Back to Nature
Goldfish                                    Annie's Cheddar Bunnies
Kraft Mac&Cheese                  Annie's Shells and Cheese (or better still - make your own!)
Gogurt, Yoplait                       Dannon all-natural, Stonyfield Farms, Horizon portable yogurt
Rold Gold Pretzels                  Snyder's Pretzels
Cheerios                                  Cascadian Farms O's
Froot Loops                            365 brand, Cascadian Farms
Pepsi                                       Original CocaCola, Hansen's Natural

Also, most whole milk, organic milk, and cheeses made from whole milk are free of additives.  (In other words, if you're buying whole milk, no need to buy organic.  Hooray!) Many low-fat milks and cheeses use preservatives in their vitamin A, so instead try low-fat milk from the following brands: Horizon, 365 brand, Royal Crest, Market Pantry from Target (love).  Check your yellow cheeses for artificial colors ("annato" is usually fine).  Avoid pre-shredded cheeses as they have many preservatives; buy in blocks and shred them yourself.

Let's talk meat.  I asked specifically about lunch meat, because I've been giving Logan some and he loooves it.  I got the green light, as long as I'm buying meat without nitrates/nitrites.  Same goes for bacon and pepperoni.  The answer was simple, as Hormel makes a line of "Natural Choice" bacon/lunchmeat/pepperoni, even though they don't make the turkey pepperoni that I was loving.  It's all a bit more expensive, but worth it in my opinion.  For other meats, buy fresh or frozen meats with a minimum of added ingredients, and avoid any that list "broth added." 

In general, most foods labeled "organic" or "all natural" are free of additives, so this is a good jumping off point.  Another resource:  I think you have to actually purchase a membership to the site, though, to access the information. 

Whew.  Thanks for indulging my information overload.  I know that so many of you are already super educated about all these things; I'm just dipping my toe in the pool.  But we're making changes, and quick.  I have no desire to leave my children with the same legacy of potential health/behavior issues that my own generation is facing. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Lauren Grace.


Last night I was with you as you brought your second child and first daughter into the world.

Truly, one of the best nights of my life. 

I know you were pretty busy, what with getting her here and all, so you may not have noticed the finer points of what was happening.  But I did.  And can I just tell you: Wow.  You're really good at making and birthing babies.

Seriously.  Were you a Scientologist, they would be super proud, because you totally mastered that being in control of your body and your emotions thing.  At seven centemeters dialated and no medication, you sat and chatted with Andrew and me about Friends and YouTube videos as if we were all just hanging out, until another contraction took your breath away. 

Your toughest moments of labor were indicated by a little heavy breathing and a tiny tensing.  But it was clear just how much pain you were in. 

At one point near the end, you calmly informed us that you didn't think you could do it, and the sarcastic part of me thought it's a little to late for that, Jess, because you're just about done while the rest of me was in sheer awe of how completely you were showing labor who's boss.  Can't do it?  YOU SO COULD DO IT!  But I tried to keep silent.  I'm not very good at it, so I probably didn't keep silent. Your husband deserves a medal for how beautifully and simply he reassured you, and gave you just the right motivation to keep you moving through those tough contractions that didn't give you any peace.

If I could have taken it from you at any point during the night, it would have been right then.  Just to give you a break from that tough job you were so bravely doing.

As you began to push, your hospital gown began to bug you.  In a moment of sheer, instinctive brilliance, you said, "this is really in my way" and whipped it off as you focused all your determination on the intense job you had ahead of you au natural.  If I'd been able to make any sound through my holy crap she's totally going to do this haze, I would have shouted, GO JESSICA!  Do what you've gotta do!

Three pushes and a full head of hair appeared.  Two pushes later, she was here.

You probably didn't get to see Andrew's face.  He's so in love with that tiny, six and a half pound little girl, and he's even more in love with you. 

The joy of a man becoming a new dad, even for the second time, is powerful, palpable, and one of life's most heart-stopping moments.  I hope that seeing his face in these pictures makes it worth having me there. 

My beautiful friend, I am so blown away by your poise and grace as you took on this, life's biggest and most incredible task.  Our friendship may have begun because of our boys, but it was designed by God.  Thank you for letting me be a part of this special day.

Thank you for making such awesome people.

Thank you.


Sunday, June 16, 2013

Close encounters of the giraffe kind

It's no secret that I have a love affair with the zoo. 

No, really.  It's one of my favorite places in the world.  I don't know what it is exactly that I find so enticing, given that in some ways the captivity of hundreds of animals is sort of sad.  Except that I totally don't think it's sad at all, I just think it's super awesome and so much better than getting eaten by a lion on the savannah. 

So when we trekked down to Colorado Springs, I knew that this time we would have to go to the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.  We've talked about it before, but for various reasons (most of them involving nap times) we've never actually taken the plunge.

And, you guys?  It was magic.  M-a-g-i-c.  Largely because of this:

Casey only got to stay with us for about 45 minutes because he had to work, but we were all lucky to experience this moment of awesome together.


I love this picture.  I think her face so perfectly captures the emotions that were written on my heart.

We arrived right as the zoo opened, so even though they have a truly amazing outdoor habitat for the giraffes, we spotted them when they were all coralled together indoors.  It was pretty cool, too.  There were probably a dozen or so of these beautiful creatures, including one baby who was absolutely adorable.

The best moment, though, was this one:

So much fun.  Giraffes are not as soft as you might think.  They're definitely more on the prickly side, slightly more coarse than horsehair but a similar feel. 

Despite the fact that Casey was called off so much earlier than we had anticipated, and despite the fact that Logan missed his morning nap which made life a little tougher on all of us, we had an absolute blast at the zoo.  It is a truly amazing experience. 

And, if I ever had any doubts that there is a connection between humans and apes, it has been definitively dispelled.  They have an incredible mountain gorilla exhibit which included a momma gorilla and her baby, born exactly two weeks before Logan.  I watched in sheer awe as this mother gorilla did so many of the same things that I do.  She picked up the baby and drummed on his hiney; she licked her finger and wiped goop off of him.  Probably most amazingly, she lifted up both her arms above her head, and then the baby mimicked her.  All I could think was, how big is baby?  SO BIG!  It was exactly the same thing we do here at our house. 

I will admit now that I was a little bit nervous about having the kids in the Springs.  Even though we went down to visit Casey, he had very little time to actually spend with us, so it was just me on my own with my two littles.  Off our schedule and out of our element, without our usual food, bed and surroundings.  It was a perfect recipe for disaster.

Fortunately, everything went just fine.  It wasn't anywhere near as stressful as I had anticipated, and  I'm feeling so much more confident about managing our lives - more than that, about thriving in our lives when it's just me and the kids.  I even recieved several compliments from different random strangers about how well I parent my children.  It was a very much needed and appreciated reassurance that I can manage well on my own, even though I'm outnumbered. 

If you're ever in Colorado, I definitely recommend the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.  Even if you're not in love with zoos like I am, I guarantee you'll be won over by this one.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Letters Found: A household scavenger hunt

Hi there, friends!

Thanks for the feedback on my calendar activities post.  Kudos to those of you who tried it, and thanks especially to the uber-creative reader who sent me her pictures. And can I just say, you totally rock at making calendars that are special and personalized!  Puts my pre-fab ones to shame.  It seems that was a fun activity for many of you, so yes, I will try to do more along those lines.

Here's another activity.  Today, we're teaching letter recognition and initial consonant sounds. 

Step one: Cut out a few BIG letters.  You can freehand them as I did (rather quickly below), or print and cut for a more precise look.  Either way, think BIG.  Practice your middle school bubble letters.  They DO NOT have to be perfect, just recognizeable.
I did it backwards so that when I cut it out, there would not be any pencil lines.  'Cause I'm crazy like that.

Step two: Show the letter to your preschooler. Ask what sound the letter makes.  If they're stumped, make the sound for them.  C says /S/ and /K/, but start by focusing on only one sound at a time.  This is why we don't do vowels sounds first - all vowels make at least two sounds.

Step three: Ask your preschooler to find something in your house that starts with that letter (ideas: S - Stairs, W - Window, R - Refrigerator or F for Fridge, T - TV, telephone, C - couch, L, Light, etc.)

Step four: Give your preschooler the letter with a little blue tape on the back and let her run around until she finds something that matches.  It doesn't matter if she finds the thing you were originally thinking, or the stove instead of the stairs.  The goal here is to have her recognize the connection between letters and sounds.  You can give hints if she's stuck, like "I see two things in this room that start with the letter T!" or "I see something we eat on that starts with T!", but be sure to give her a real chance before jumping in.  She'll probably get there on her own. 

Leah found coffee, cup, and couch before finally deciding she wanted to hang it up on the fridge (because that's what we do with art in our house, and she liked the purple letter that much).  I convinced her to keep it on the couch for fun. 

What to do if she pairs the wrong letter with the wrong thing?  Tell her, Great thinking!  But let's listen again.  Stairs - /s/, /s/, /s/.  This letter says /k/.  Let's try to find something that starts with /k/! 

Hint: make sure you are having fun.  Be animated!  Be encouraging!  Laugh and chase her as she looks around the room.  Your preschooler wants to do this because it's fun and she's spending time with you, not because she's learning.  The learning is just a happy byproduct of the game. 

Fair warning: we did this with four letters, and it was nowhere near enough.  I improvised with letters on sticky notes, but it wasn't as fun. 

If you try any of these projects with your preschooler, let me know how it goes!  You can comment below or e-mail at

Happy learning!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The view from up here is fine

The number of moments on which I'm forced to confront the fact that I am a super-adult! are becoming increasingly hard to ignore.

For example, we recently spent a few days in Colorado Springs, which is located about an hour and a half from our house.  Leah, Logan and I were driving down as a threesome, because we were joining Casey who was working down there.  I was just giving myself props for how we'll I'd orchestrated the whole driving thing - everybody fed and entertained, Logan's nap perfectly timed for our arrival, Leah happily singing away - when a little voice rose from the back.

"Mommy, I have to go potty." 

That's cool, I can handle that.  Except that we were on the highway.  With nary a nasty, germ-filled gas station bathroom in sight.  What's a traveling mom to do?

The answer, as Jeff Goldblum told us right before a T-Rex crashed through the bathroom, is: when you gotta go, you gotta go.  Even if you're on the highway in the middle of nowhere. 

And we did.  And it was the first of many girly things I'll teach Leah throughout her life.  Cure cancer?  No.  Squat on the side of the road without dripping on your shoes or shorts?  I'm your gal.

See what I mean about being a super-adult?  (You might think I'd have caught on either time I made people, but nope.  Even hormonal teens can do that.  Being a super-adult! is when it hits you that you've become your parents.)

The windows in our house are awful.  I'm pretty sure the inspector tried to tell me this before we bought the house, but, in the scheme of everything else that was wrong, windows didn't crack my top ten.  In hindsight, they probably should have, because let me tell you - windows cost a pretty penny to replace.  And our windows aren't wimpy little windows.  They're the giant kind; the kind that a window company will happily charge you double for, and there are quite a lot of them.   

But since Leah's window didn't even have a screen and one of the panes of glass was broken, and since none of the windows did what they are supposed to do in terms of actually keeping out heat, cold, water or bugs, it seems like a good thing to invest in.

A little construction...


The master bedroom was pretty bad too:
and the screens looked like this:
Look at that big, beautiful window!  It's like Christmas morning in a frame.
Yes, these are the things I get excited about now that I'm a super-adult-exclamation-point.  We only did the upper level, because it took our entire tax return and most of Leah's college education to have these done.  But I think they're pretty snazzy.  And they do cool things, like not letting bugs in, and keeping the outdoor temperatures... wait for it... outdoors!  What a concept!

And, in case you're wondering, I get excited about my Dyson vacuum cleaner, too.  Super Adults, unite.

Monday, June 10, 2013

You can take the teacher out of the clasroom

In need of a simple project for your preschooler this summer?  How about teaching days, letters, numbers, and calendar skills all in one shot?

It's a super simple project, and you can do it entirely at home with no other tools than your home printer and a pair of scissors.  Or, for about $12, you can purchase them pre-made from your local teacher supplies store (or the lovely internet) as I have done.  Because, let's face it, $12 is totally worth the two hours it would have taken me to make these on my own. 

What you'll need:
::Months of the year
::Days of the week
::Weather cards
::Numbers 1-31
::Something nifty to display them on

I also had mine laminated (which again can be done at your choice of school supply stores for about $1 per foot; mine cost $8 but it's soooo worth it in the long run) so that they can be re-used and abused forever. 

Leah and I decided to hang ours in a place we'd be sure to see them everyday: the sliding glass door to the backyard.  It sits right next to the kitchen table, so it's an ideal location to keep her engaged.  Hint: I used blue painters tape to adhere everything to avoid yucky tape residue.  Yes, these are the tricks of the trade they don't tell you about in MA classes.

Stumped on how to use this besides the obvious?  Here are a few suggestions.

Read the name of the month.  As you read, point to the letters and make each letter sound seperately.  /J/ /oo/ /n/ Tell your preschooler that sometimes, at the end of a word, the letter E is a helper letter that doesn't make any sound!  WOW!  Have them repeat each sound.

Rather than setting up all 30/31 days on the calendar, add each day individually and practice number recognition and counting skills.  Every day, count all the days that are already on the calendar, and have your preschooler pick out which one comes next (from a group of only about three so they don't get overwhelmed).

Set out all the days of the week.  Tell your preschooler, "today is Monday.  Mmmm, Mmmm, Monday.  Can you guess what letter Mmmmonday starts with?"  Then, have them find the card that starts with the letter M.

Create a days of the week song.  I like this one because there's a book to go along with it, and I heart everything that includes a book.  I use a modified version of this song where I've taken out all the food stuff, but we sing it every time we talk about the days of the week.  It doesn't matter what you do, even if you totally make it up.  As long as there is a rhythm and repetition, your child will learn and repeat it.

Use these cards as a jumping off point to talk about seasons and weather.  This could also turn into  discussion of weather appropriate clothing using stickers, drawings, pictures on the computer... anything! 

I also have to shamelessly plug preschool workbooks.  Yes, your child can do this.  Perhaps not as effectively or independently as they will one day be able to, but don't sell your child short.  They're hugely capable if you're willing to take a little time to help them.

Today, we practiced big/small letter recognition, following directions and coloring inside the lines.

Yes, this single activity taught all of those skills in about 15 minutes.  And perfection?  It's totally not the goal here.

We also practiced writing:

Helping your child to learn to love learning and discovery is really easy, especially at this age.  They're naturally drawn to anything that is new and exciting.  And, it's worth noting that a child's lifelong learning capacity is formed in the first five years of life.  That's a pretty awesome opportunity.

Happy learning, friends!

I changed my font at