DON'T MISS OUT!

Sweetie Pie

Janey has been cracking us up lately with her funny faces.  I tried pigtails the other day-I don't think she or her hair is ready for that next step. She sure looked cute though-but a little too old-Isaac texted me the last time I posted a pic of Janey and said, "She looks like she is five!"  She is such a sweetie and so content and happy.  I finally was able to find some boots for her little feet and we can get outside in the mud.  And the teeth-finally in!  We are both relieved.

Matthew made his Confirmation last week and Abbey stood in for Isaac as his sponsor.  In the rush of making sure everyone was ready and looking nice and able to endure the long ceremony (i.e. had full tummies) I forgot to grab my camera battery on the way out.  Darn.

Happy Spring!  It has arrived!  The boys played outside all day Sunday and what a difference it makes.

Penelope's Story

(introduction to series here)

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My name is Penelope, I live in Auckland New Zealand and am the mummy to two gorgeous boys E (5) and G(3). I have a BA in French, Italian and Political Science; a first class honours degree in French; a graduate diploma in Communications and Public Relations; and a graduate certificate in ESOL . I went to High School in NZ but spent my final year studying in Switzerland. I also spent a summer on a scholarship in Florence, Italy. Before becoming a Mummy I worked as an Account Director in a Public Relations firm specialising in IT and T.

My husband and I meet in a Politics lecture at the University of Victoria in Wellington. The paper was called ‘The Politics of the Self and the Political Economy’. Needless to say I remember nothing about it other than the lecturer wore his pet cat to class around his shoulders. We were so proud at the time as we were our only friends who hadn’t met in a bar – how intellectual!

I had so many plans - I was going to be a lawyer, then a Diplomat and then a PR consultant which fitted well with my language degrees and love of talking J.

After seven years at university I took my career deadly seriously. I was at my desk by 7am and, as someone who naturally works very hard, found myself quickly promoted (three times in two and a half years) to be an Account Director. I was 28 and managing some of the largest PR clients and budgets in my country. 

Unfortunately? I had always wanted to be a Mummy.
I loved the PR industry. I was surrounded by extremely high-achieving females all of whom, when they had children, came back to work and most full-time. I adored these women and many are still close friends, however I did feel like I was playing a role. I was ‘just like them’, or so it must have appeared except … except that since I was really little I have loved children and desperately looked forward to having my own. I was that child in my neighbourhood who could immediately sense if a new family with a baby had moved in nearby. I was that child who would be waiting on their doorstep for them to get home with my arms outstretched to hold their baby.

I have great-great-aunts who were among some of the original suffragettes in England. The right of women to vote, participate fully in society, to be allowed to be both mothers and workers was something achieved - not by some obscure history text book women - but partially by my women. New Zealand was the first country in the world to give women the vote and growing up I definitely picked up that it is incredibly important, as a mother, to also work. Maybe not when your children are very young, but ideally as soon as possible after that and definitely by the time they start school. My absolute favourite sweatshirt was bright pink with the words ‘girls can do anything’ on it. It was a hand-me-down from our neighbours so a strong message quite literally circulating the area - although no one clarified it didn’t mean you had to do it all at once.
I don’t feel that any of the wonderful women surrounding me as I grew up told me I had to either stay at home or had to work.  I had great role models on both sides: my own amazing mum stayed at home before we went to school but before that I remember her also doing relief teaching work while I played at other neighbourhood mummies homes as did their children when their mums worked part-time.

My Grandmother, also a teacher, worked when her two children were five. I think for both of them working and contributing financially was probably quite important (I remember my Mum telling me that, ahead of a seven-month campervan trip around Europe with my two year old brother, she worked in a restaurant at night to earn her own airfare). On the flip side is my best friend’s mum who is also an absolutely fantastic mother and chose to work full-time with nannies at home and paid after-school care at other women’s homes. I love their Mum and have strong memories of waves of perfume, power suits and feet which, confined for long hours in stilettos, could no longer fit flat shoes.  But those were the options – New Zealand didn’t have childcare centers back then.

The working women I most admired of my generation often stated as a fact: ‘I have a brain and I actually like using it’. Here we have paid parental leave for 14 weeks and a year off for maternity leave. I think most people expected to see me within a few months. So rationally, pre-children, I decided I could probably squeeze in two children if I had them closely together. Then, by the time the youngest was say 18 months, the two of them could go off to daycare together. I had mental images of my two lovely offspring holding hands and walking through a childcare gate. Rationally, I concluded I could take maybe three years off? Rationally, I knew, even then, my career would be in tatters.

And then I had E. And even today I cannot write those words without catching my breath because that boy made me a mother.  From the second he was born, six weeks early, within seven hours - everything changed. I no longer cared what anyone thought, who I might disappoint or even who I might make proud. I immediately felt an overwhelming, humbling, certainty that I had been put on this earth to be his mother and the fact that I could, hypothetically, ‘achieve so much more’ was the most false statement ever written and least important thing I could ever waste my time thinking about.

I got to be his Mummy.

My husband is a teacher, so our plan was to wait until E was born, sell our house over the summer, find him a job in Wellington and move into my grandparent’s house which my mother still owned. This meant we could have me at home for hopefully a few years. We put our house on the market the week before the Global Economic Crisis hit and there it sat. Selling our house was the only way could afford to have me at home as I earned about 60% of our income. It didn’t sell. We had offers but the banks weren’t lending and it kept falling through. I remember being shell-shocked and utterly terrified – my baby had just come home from NICU and I was facing the certainty that I was going back to work. I remember having a conversation with my mother where I sobbed devastated and uncontrollably, watching her heart break for me, as I told her we couldn’t make this happen.

The turning point for me was, however, not that moment, but the day a local warehouse had a huge fire. I stood watching the flames from my kitchen window. It was about 6pm and I was about to bath my baby when I realised that, because of the fire, our power was also off. I went into the bathroom to check for hot water and put my foot through the floor and realised our whole bathroom floor was rotted and this was just the first tile about to go. I may possibly at that point have said a very bad word very loudly but it was at that moment, profanity and all, I decided that I was going to make this happen or I would gladly die trying.

We cancelled all our bills that weren’t necessary, no cable for us, very basic internet plan that was so cheap and from such an obscure local company that more often than not we had no internet or landline, we wore layers of clothes rather than use heaters ,one car only used when necessary. I cooked exclusively from scratch (although my husband does remember the day I rang him at work to ask how to work our oven. We had already lived in our house for two years….). No new clothes, no coffees, no haircuts, if it wasn’t literally a basic need it didn’t make the cut. Even then we had no chance of breaking even and lived in savings for more than three years (thanks to money from my grandparents, a teacher and English professor, who spent their whole lives counting their pennies).

Still today when people ask how we can afford it I am quick to tell them “oh we absolutely can’t.” Now, as years lead to promotions and pay increases (my husband is now the head of English at a local highschool) we are in quite a different position financially. That said, staying at home has been absolutely financially crippling for us and we have quite literally watched every single dollar we have ever earned, or been fortunate to receive, pour down the drain. Thank goodness that drain is so cute J Only now are we plugging that drain and building things back up again.
Many of my friends work part-time, all are extremely careful about any childcare use and all adore their children as much as I do – but, and there is a but – I wonder if this being ‘just’ a Mum is getting the same level of encouragement as working does, particularly for those of us with degrees, with sparkling careers and prospects. I can’t help but feel there is a collective sigh of disappointment and wringing of hands over the waste when yet another Mum doesn’t return to the office.  I wonder if I see it slightly differently though.

Going to university, in my family, might as well have been part of compulsory education. My grandfather had a PhD from Oxford and my grandmother went to the University of London. My father went to five universities, my mother two, one in NZ and one in France. My brother is a lecturer at the University of Cambridge. I was always taught that education was for education’s sake, it was because of, and with the express purpose of furthering, a love of learning. It was never to get a job. Sure it made getting a well-paid one much easier but that wasn’t the reason for the degrees. So if I think what all those lovely letters after my name mean and how I can best use them, it really is within the walls of my home and in fostering that love of learning to my children.
I have had friends grappling with what to do and while I absolutely know what is right for my family I choose to have a limited opinion about what the next family should do. Yet I know, that if you want to stay at home it is rare that it can’t be made possible, while still personally knowing women currently suffering the pure heartbreak of it being simply impossible.

However for me, it simply has to be me, it must be me with my children. Not for all those gorgeous toddler moments saying cute toddler things – I’m pretty confident any one could manage that well -  it’s when they are sick or tired and quite frankly horrendous. It has to be me because I love them with a love so infinite that I can move mountains. Only I can kneel beside them, stare back into their eyes and have them to know, without a shadow of a doubt, that I love and understand them better than anyone and I will do whatever it takes to work with them and make it o.k.

I want my boys to have a long, calm, confident childhood and grow up absolutely enveloped in the love we have for them, to know there is no place I would ever rather be even if that place has to be the now repaired bathroom floor singing songs and cheering on toilet training.  
Everybody has heard the saying that no one, on their death bed, has wished they spent more time in the office and I can’t help but wonder if this might be a big part of the solution. My hope is that more women will choose for themselves to take a deep breath, to leave those beautifully framed, hard-earned, expensive degrees on the wall and close that office door. My hope is that women will come to know that its ok, it’s a valid choice, you are wasting nothing and you might just come to gain everything you’ve ever wanted. You too educated, successful women, get to come back home. 

Ordinary Days

The snow is melting!  
And it's muddy.  Really, really muddy.
But it feels good to be outside.

We've gone on a walk every day this week, around the block once or more.

March madness.  Go Michigan!  My bracket is in shambles, but I love when underdogs win. The celebration afterwards is so fun.   Except MI is not an underdog, and I still want them to win, just to make that clear.

Celebrating the first day of spring with Mr. Freeze.  I'm not sure why Patrick looks so concerned.
I had none, I gave up sugary treats for Lent.
And for diet purposes.

And this little one.  Oh boy.  She'll be nineteen months on Sunday and she is so cute. God made this age cute, because we just have to love them, we have to, if not, we'll go a little side of crazy.  
The messes really don't matter anyways, I don't remember the gajillion messes I've cleaned up from toddlers, but I will always crave those darn chubby cheeks, and soft skin and little pitter patters of feet. 

(August 2012-Isaac came home after his first week of his freshman year of college to see his new sister Janey.)

I was thinking this week of how quickly time has flown since Janey has been born...how much everyone in the family changes, how things do get easier after that first year.  Not tons easier, but just easier.  And how at the same time, looking at those photos of those blurry days, make me miss them too.  
Life is good.
Muddy, but good. ;)
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PS. If you haven't seen it yet, Erin has an interview (she is doing a whole series on Vintage Mothering-such a cool idea!) with Violet, who raised her children in the 1950's.  Reminds me of how much I take for granted. 

Erin's Story

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Today is the first warm day of March and I eat scrambled eggs outside in the morning sun while my two little boys (ages 4 and 1.5) walk around the front of our property, exploring spring mud, scattering bird seed and discovering the first of the season's crocuses. How many questions do my babes ask me before I have finished my eggs? I lose count.
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"Are there lawnmowers in heaven, mommy?"

"Why is mud called mud?"

"Is today spring mommy and is tomorrow going to be June???"
rare and beautiful treasures blog swing
Their little minds are hungry and I teach them from the minute their eyes open with morning's dawn until I sing them to sleep at night. This morning in particular their faces are full of delight and the coffee is hot and black in my cup that overflows with blessing and contentment. Soon the spell will break of course, someone will start to whine or fall in a puddle and need a change of clothes. The laundry pile I left overflowing inside will call my name and there will be dishes to do and floors to clean. But the real work of mothering has already begun. This loving and teaching and exploring together and I am home, here, a part of it.
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My toddler runs up to me and I hand him a fork full of fresh warm eggs. I am his provider, his teacher, his friend and above all, his mother. Mother! What a blessing that God has shown me this favor.
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I always knew I would stay at home with my children. But I also knew that I would have a career. I just knew that I wouldn't do both of those things at the same time. For me, it would have felt like trying to celebrate Easter and Christmas on the same day.

In the years before I taught my boys about mud and mowers and scrambled eggs, I wore pretty suits and 3 inch heels and went to court and was a successful attorney. I worked really hard in school for 20 years (God was preparing me, even then, for the hard work of mothering). I went through all those years of school and even sat for the bar exam knowing that one day I would be a stay at home mom. I have just taken life slowly, one season at a time.

I offer this as encouragement to anyone who has invested extensive time and money (oh the money!) on education and formal degrees. You can have a doctorate or a bachelors or a masters or any degree under the sun and put it to work in your daily life as a mother. You do not walk away from that degree or career experience when you become a mother. I know the world tells you otherwise, and it is such a pity. Yes, it will be a different kind of work and it will be an income of an entirely different variety, but motherhood can be the next season along the same path you have always been walking. It is not a matter of walking one path and then dropping off all you have accomplished to jump on another path and start all over. There is no such thing as a "wasted degree." I am still a lawyer, I just don't practice law right now. You can still be a teacher, a counselor, a nurse, a doctor, an engineer. No one can take that from you. Don't let them.
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You will run into people who disagree with your choice. I certainly did. But by the time I was making known my plan to leave my job to stay home, I could feel my first baby kicking inside my tummy and all other thoughts and cares just faded to the background. I have a very vivid memory of sitting in my boss's office talking to him about my plans to stay home. I was nervous and had been dreading that conversation. But as I was sitting in that chair my little one started kicking and wiggling inside me and I knew we were in it together.

In deed, after my first was born my whole world was turned on its head. Having your first baby (any baby, really, but particularly your first) is like experiencing life with all of your senses in overdrive. You are awash in hormones, love, perplexity, and tears. I couldn't stand to be apart from my baby. It felt unnatural and went against my maternal instincts. My first baby was also a "high needs baby," colicky, cried constantly unless held or nursed and would only stay asleep with loud white noise like the vacuum cleaner or dryer. We went through all of those days together. He needed me.
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Today, four years later, staying home with my children means:

I am the one who lays my baby in his crib for a mid-day nap. I choose the lullaby he hears, which blanket will cover him.

I bandage the cut and dry the tears. I know which song soothes his anxieties and I sing it six times over.

I am the one to notice when a fever starts to run or to give Motrin when I sense teething.

I am able to answer the important question that comes out of nowhere at 2:15 on a Tuesday: "Mommy, what is Jesus doing in heaven right now?"

My primary goal the first 18 months of baby's life is to allow baby to bond deeply with me, so that I start off a step ahead when the toddler years hit and the important training begins.

My husband and I did make changes financially as our household income was cut in half when I stopped working to stay home. We downsized our house and eventually became a one car family. It has all been more than worth it. My husband and I have thankfully always been on the same page on this issue. I don't remember it exactly but I am sure we talked about it as early as our dating years. If you are single and reading this, I encourage you to wait prayerfully on God's best in a husband for you. If you are already married and wanting to stay home but your husband is opposed to it for financial or other reasons, I encourage you to pray-that God would give your husband a sense of peace, of financial security and ultimately a changed heart. Don't despair, prayer is powerful and God loves you, beloved one.

Motherhood is a sacred vocation. A blessing. I believe it is the hardest work one can do, but also the most rewarding. The most important. Our modern culture has seen fit to strip it of it's value, but on this beautiful spring day, I know the truth. I am living it. I am sharing it with you. It is in my heart, warm, like the sun coming up over the horizon. And I promise you this, it is a blessing, good and true, to be home.
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Coming Home



I am so excited to introduce a new series of essays intended to celebrate the vocation of stay-at-home motherhood.  

I had an idea years ago that grew and grew and wouldn't let go of my soul.

I've received so many beautiful emails from mothers all over the world describing their journey home.  I have saved many of them because I knew the letters were written on borrowed, precious time-probably quickly during nap-time, or tapped away one-handed while nursing, or in the wee hours of the morning while the house was still quiet.  A few were written by moms whose children have grown and gone on to have their own families, witnesses to the speed of years when days seem long. Some were written by moms who felt overwhelmed and tired, telling me something I had written about being home had offered the reminder they needed to hear in a culture that often undervalues the role of the mother in the home-that they were doing the most important work on earth. Some were written to me on days when I needed to hear the same thing. Some were written in tears, a brand new mom crying out for support, looking for courage to stand strong against outside pressure to go back to work, when her heart was telling her otherwise.

All of them had the same passionate message-"I am so glad I am home.  I love being here.  I don't want it to be anyone else.  It is sometimes so challenging, but I wouldn't change my days caring for my children for all the world.  It is a blessing, a privilege, a gift."

I thought that if I could gather personal testimonials, just like those emails I've received, from mothers all over the world, they could serve as a small quiet treasure of thoughtful inspiration, gentle encouragement, and reminders of the precious and sacred role of mother.

And that is what I've set out to do in this series titled Coming Home.


40 Days Tips and Tricks: House Love



Do you want to love your home?

I think I've found the secret to house love: stop comparing your house to other homes...just pay attention to your house, wherever you may be right now, whatever it might look like, and work at turning it into the
coziest, cleanest home it can be.

In a little notebook I sometimes jot my  "rules" for life I once wrote these things:

-Clean and everything will look better to you.
-Order=sanity.
-Less toys, furniture, clothing, junk is always better...keep a SIMPLE house...get rid of stuff
constantly. Or better yet, don't buy it!
-Don't ask for endless opinions...you'll get too many ideas...stick with what YOU love.
-A small change, that usually costs pennies... flowers, a pretty plant, etc...makes a big difference.
-Don't copy anyone's style...find your own and stick to it.

Today there are tons of ideas and images out there from just about everywhere..magazines, (and I'll
add now- blogs!)...I find for me that it is a waste of time to constantly be on the search for the perfect idea, or to constantly want/need change. I want to be content! I find that when I mind my own home, with what I have on hand I achieve contentment.

Sometimes this means: I NEED TO STOP LOOKING!

Sometimes I feel we have so many, TOO many, chances to want, want, want. Or to wish, wish, wish.

What if we just tried contentment? What if we accepted our homes as they are, linoleum, old cabinets,
tiny closets, squeaky doors, hand-me-down sofa, and worked with and learned to love what we have right
in front of us? I think our grandparents did this much better than we have ever done. Most of them lived
in the same home for their lifetimes, and took such good care of what they had, whether it was the "in"
thing or not.

I really have found if I clean, everything looks fresh and new to me. It's a little miracle, with no money and some elbow grease I can transform my home and my attitude towards it.

And have you ever noticed on those home make-over shows the biggest change is that the rooms once filled with "stuff", are just emptier and cleaner?  That costs nothing!

Sometimes I catch myself thinking, "Oh, I need a change in here." And that change always means more money, more searching (time wasting searching), maybe an errand, something new.

BUT I find when I just give that room a good old fashioned cleaning I feel so differently...that's all that was needed. Dust those shelves, buy some tulips or pick some branches from outside to put in a vase, scrub, scrub, scrub, wash the windows, move things around, and purge all that clutter. Fill the air with the fresh scent of 'clean' and I love my home again.

Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam,
be it ever so humble,
there's no place like Home.
- T. Howard Payne

Meant To

I meant to write a 40 Days post with photos this week.  I started off strong and then another storm hit and two snow days followed and that was that.  My camera is at school with Abbey so I am forced to make do today.

So far I've cleaned out my master bathroom and my little make up area and our closet.  I made Jeff clean out his closet last weekend, which meant I stood there with a garbage bag and forced him to go through his side. We had one full garbage bag of "donate" when we were finished.
  
I am posting this photo of my side of the closet because I noticed the layer of dust on the high heels on the top shelf and thought that it was funny and says a lot about the life I lead.  Honestly, I don't think those shoes even fit me anymore-at least comfortably-since baby #6 smashed my feet down even more-but I keep them because I might need them for an emergency (wedding, funeral, rare special event) and the last thing I want to shop for ever again is high heels.
My closet is pretty pared down but I found a few things to donate-itchy sweater, stretched out t-shirts.

Our sewing/craft/scrapbook/gift wrap/stationary/Rainbow loom cabinet.

All my purses and accessories. :)  The box is for receipts.

Next week-a motivation post, and more pics.

Getting Baby To Sleep Part Two

Part Two  (Part One Here).

First before I proceed, I have to reiterate once again that I am writing from my experience with my six babies. I might have a different lifestyle from you-I am my children's primary caregiver (with my husband of course), I don't leave my babies often with sitters (meaning I am almost always the one putting baby to sleep),  I have breastfed all my children for a year or more, and I learned early on that the only way I could survive feeding an infant/baby many times a night was to co-sleep (it wasn't a decision made for any other reason but because no one got sleep any other way), and how long that lasted depended on the baby.  I have found through trial and error, getting advice from other moms who I admire, and reading lots and lots, what has worked for me, my babies and my family.  

I do NOT have some special "get your baby to sleep through the night" method!  But have learned to accept my babies for who they were, and the stages they were at, and not mold them into something they "should" be doing because someone else says so.  I learned to trust my mother gut and my baby.  I learned that I am not comfortable leaving them to cry for extended periods of time (or who am I kidding, ANY period of time) and I am willing to do some extra "work" to get my babies to sleep.

So I am going to speak generally about my experiences and once again maybe it will help another mom who, like me, felt strongly that cry-it-out sleep methods did not feel right and then give a couple book suggestions that helped me with tips and tricks and reassured me also.

I was stumped on how to approach this "how I do it" section because I think it would be extremely boring to read about what I did with each of my babies sleep-wise.  My babies were all different, and those stages of that first year all change so quickly and go so fast.   I could say "Isaac was more difficult to get to sleep (movement worked for him), but once he was asleep he was out.  But during his first three months, I'm quite sure that little guy ate every two hours, so he definitely wasn't that "out"-not sleeping through the night!

1. The overall message that I must send is that you as the mom, know your baby best.  Every little one is born with different personalities and sensitivities.  When I look back with my five older children, I see each of their sleep personalities as babies are so much who they are now-I know I didn't "make" them like this- I can "see" that little baby personality, all those nuances-whether sensitive, or fun-loving, or laid-back, or intense, it was all reflected that first one or two years.

2. One of the most difficult parts of the first year is keeping up with the quick development and growth which often leads to changing schedules and patterns.  It seemed to me that first year, as soon as I could count on a schedule, a growth spurt would hit, a tooth would begin to break through, it was time to transition from three naps to two, or one, etc.  I love predictability and knowing I can anticipate a little quite time here or there, but the nature of the first year, does not lend itself to cut and dry time tables.  I have learned to adapt, but I also what has helped me is keeping a written schedule of the babies feedings and naps.  (Not all year, just here and there as needed.)  Just keeping track by writing down what is happening with feed/sleep/play patterns, helps me feel some control.  It also helps me eventually pull out a pattern and therefore establish some sort of schedule.  This isn't a stranger led schedule-this a baby/mother led loose organic schedule that we work on together.  I would look in books, ask friends with babies the same age, or look on-line to find out what a "typical" (remembering that every baby is different) schedule was at a certain age, but mainly I could be aware of a baby-led pattern.

Getting and keeping baby to sleep (and once again this depended on the baby) got SO much easier after that first year.  Gradually, of course, but that first year is intense.

3. I've had three fussy babies-my last three.  Andrew, my fourth, was colicky from morning till night, I held him all day and he slept on me or next to me all night-for months.  That was by far the most challenging experience I had with any of my babies.  It's survival mode for a long time and it is not easy, and sometimes lonely.  It's not just physically draining, it's exhausting work, and it's emotionally draining too, because not being able to immediately soothe my baby was so stressful to me.  (Nursing worked for all my babies, but did not for Andrew.)  I don't think anyone can really "get" how taxing caring for a gassy, and/or colicky, and/or highly sensitive baby is unless they've had one of their own.  These babies need extra tender care, they need us to drop as much as we can off our plates and care for them as best we can.  Rearranging our lives and reordering our priorities for a fussy baby is a must...if they aren't worth that, than what is?

When I have a fussy baby, I have learned to pull out any and every tool to get my baby to stop crying, fall asleep and stay asleep, without tears.

Nurse, swaddle, swing, bounce (exercise ball), rock, music, fans, pats, slings, stroller rides, car rides, pacifiers...you name it, I've experimented with whatever I could try to soothe that baby, and once I found what worked I stuck with it.  Do "bad" habits (which according to some sleep "experts" mean anything but dropping them in a crib and walking away) start with fussy babies?  Yes, I guess they do.  I still sometimes "bounce" Janey to sleep-that was what worked for her when she was younger.

I am OK with doing whatever works, no matter how "crazy" it might seem to some.  If it gets that baby to sleep, and helps me sleep better also, I'm good with it.  And you know, I look back on all my babies, and that hard first year, and do you think I regret the time I spent rocking, strolling, bouncing, reading?  Heck no.

With all my babies, not just the fussy ones, when I felt like we could move to that next step up (meaning less sleep assistance) without much or any angst, I did so.  Every transition was timed different according to the baby. For example, over a course of the year or two, we transitioned from sleeping in sling (my fussy babies), to being swaddled and put down in crib once they asleep in sling, to just bouncing or nursing (no sling)and then to just rocking and put in crib almost asleep then just being read to in bed.  From ages two to four we transitioned from reading while toddler falls asleep, to reading and then leaving while toddler fell asleep by himself, and then eventually they learned to read themselves to sleep.  We transitioned from baby in our bed, to a crib, or to baby on mattress on floor of our room, or toddler in big boy/girl bed in own room. Eventually when baby becomes toddler (after 2 or 3 or 4), and I know the understanding is there, I can and will be lovingly firm-("we are going to read 3 books and sing 3 songs and then I'll come back and check on you, you have to stay in bed") because consistency is the key.  Consistency and routine are the keys.  I say WE because Jeff helped with this transition a great deal. Once I am finished nursing, or even, depending on the baby, before then, or when I was pregnant with the next baby, Jeff would take over the bedtime routine mostly.  I found that Dad can help a lot after that first year, or during the weaning process.  For some reason, Dad is just not as fun to wake up to, and that worked for us.

4. I also had one baby that could and would fall asleep completely by himself early on. Matt was my third and I could set him in his crib (after a certain age, maybe 3 months? I don't remember exactly) and he would hold a blankie he loved and suck on his pacifier and he'd fall right to sleep. It happened the first time by pure accident (there was some emergency and I set him in his crib, tired, and he fussed (in a babbly sort of way, not crying) and when I went to go check on him he was fast asleep.  I tried it again and again and every time he snuggled in and went right to sleep almost always-if he didn't fall asleep and I could tell he was going to cry, I would rock him a little and lay him down.  I, of course, thought I had the 'whole sleep thing' figured out because of this-which is why God gave my Andrew next. :)  Matthew was such a laid back, non-gassy, super-content baby.  That's why this worked.

(My babies all slept so much better on their tummies-maybe I make "gassy" babies.  Not infants-babies who could hold up their heads.  I asked my doctor about this and he gave me the go-ahead each time and it really really really helped.)

5. I always tried to lay baby down for naps in the same place-their crib-so they would get used to that.  Some of the gassy babies slept in the sling as infants if needed, because they would immediately wake up when put down, or shortly there after.  Once those fussy gassy babies were able to sleep on their tummies, or just stay asleep for longer periods of time then it took to put them to sleep, I would set them in the crib, once I got them asleep (in the sling or nursing, bouncing, etc.) with the fan (white noise) on.  Sometimes if they woke up, I would go right in and soothe them back to sleep, whichever way worked for them (usually bouncing on the ball) and then try to set them right back down again.  It seemed eventually their nap times got longer and longer.

6. Perspective is important. "This too shall pass."  "The days are long but the years are short."  Two very important quotes to keep in mind.  And how about "I can do hard things", which isn't a famous quote but just one that I made up and works in this situation.  No, having a baby that is fussy or a very sensitive sleeper, or a baby who needs to nurse a lot, or wakes during the night isn't easy.  I have been exhausted before, and frustrated, and sometimes it seemed that next transition couldn't come soon enough.  But I have the gift of a broader perspective now, and what a gift it is!

Here is a beautiful article on the "the art of being"-something to keep in mind during those hard days.

7. Resources:
Here are some of my favorite books chock full of tips and advice and reassurance.  Once I read and understood about the science of baby's physical development it helped me so much-it helped me know I was doing the right thing by avoiding prolonged, ignored crying, and also recognized development stages and the sleep needs of infants and babies.

Elizabeth Pantley is the author of many books on the subject of infant and toddler sleep and her site and books are excellent.

The Happiest Baby on the Block
-lots of good tips especially if you have a fussy baby.

And of course Dr. Sears-
The Baby Book

The last sleep post had so many nice comments from other moms who are NOT comfortable with cry-it-out methods also.  Maybe if us no-cry moms all shared the little things that worked for us, or any tips, tricks or our experiences with our babies, in the comment section, it would be helpful for others who felt the same.

Slow Going



I'm making slow headway on the 40 Bags in 40 Days spring cleaning process.  I think I should take a photo of the area I cleaned out, and then a picture of how Janey "helped" me just for fun.  (Like as I am cleaning the bathroom closet, the toilet paper magically unrolls itself all over the floor.  There is nothing to do but laugh, 18 months is the cutest age ever-she wants to be stuck like next to me at all times and copies everything I do. :)

But this Lenten process gets easier and easier for me each  year, I have to admit, because I am so much more careful about what comes into this house, and I find myself doing little purges all year long.  I hope to whiz through rooms quickly, although I anticipate coming to a screeching halt when I get to the attic.

I've realized that I have dropped the ball on my weekly menu posts.  As soon as I think I can handle a small blogging obligation with ease, some how my life here at home fills up, something more important eases its way in, and I have to rearrange priorities.  I mean to continue, but can't count on the time to do that yet.  I laughed that I wrote on my sleep post 'Part Two coming soon', because it is most definitely not coming soon....it is coming most indefinitely later.   As we start up here with the busy season of spring (yeah!), things seem to come at me so fast, that I have to clear brain space in order to strive to have a peaceful mind instead of a harried one.

I am off to catch up on laundry and write out that menu (boy I dread that sometimes!), and get things in order for the busy weekend.  Hope you have a good one!

Getting Baby To Sleep-Thoughts and Tips and Resources


I've never had "that baby" that magically slept through the night at two weeks or six weeks or maybe even six months.  And with my first two children, I felt the entire time that I was doing something wrong in the sleep department because of that.  It took me till my fourth baby (thank you sweet Andrew) till I wised up and gained enough knowledge and experience to know and feel confident about what works for me and my family.

From what I heard from some "experts" or friends I was creating habits that would make my infants turn into toddlers and then children into teens with overly dependent terrible sleep habits.  Oh the things I heard.  They make me laugh now, six babies later.  Perspective is everything!

I've divided this post about into two sections.  Part One being my thoughts, and things I've learned the hard way, and Part Two some tips that have helped me and resources also.

Babies have always been the same since the beginning of time.  Yes, they are born with different temperaments and personalities but they are born with the same innate needs. It doesn't matter what part of the world they are born in, at what time (thousands of years ago, or today), what the culture is like, who the experts happen to be during their generation, or the parenting trends of the decade-they have always come from the womb with the same needs since the beginning of time.  They know nothing of Dr. Spock, Ferberizing, Similac, Graco or BabyGap.  I think every baby wants the warm loving arms of their mother as much as possible (she smells so good!!), food from their mother's breasts (and if that's truly impossible, the best substitute possible to survive), soft, warm coverings (probably not skinny jeans :), and a good diaper that is changed often.  Their only way to get their needs met is by crying (how frustrating would that be!)

Here are some thoughts from MY experiences and things I've learned from raising MY babies.  Hopefully this well help another mom who might be going through the same experiences and challenges.

1. Babies aren't naturally good sleepers. Here is a great article about how baby sleep patterns differ from adult sleep patterns.

2.  Don't ever compare a breast fed baby's sleep habits to a formula fed baby's sleep habits.  A breast fed baby should have different patterns of sleep.  Breast milk is perfectly designed for a baby-maybe not always perfectly designed for a culture that expects mothers to strive for 8 hours of straight sleep a night-but it is perfectly designed for the sake of the babies health.  It is digested more quickly than formula is.  I would compare drinking a bottle of formula to a carb/protein loaded Thankgiving meal-vs. a 'clean-eating style' meal of breast milk.  (We can only surmise that since nature intended for babies to thrive on breast milk they are designed to be more alert, and sleep for shorter amounts of time-for safety and developmental reasons.  Again this might not "fit" the trends today and our culture  right now, but babies know nothing of "fitting in" and it isn't their fault that they were born when our expectations don't match their needs and developmental stages.)

3. By very very wary of cry-it out sleep training methods.  I have found these are usually quick sells to desperately tired parents. I have also found the books don't paint a totally honest picture (or maybe the author just lacks the experience to be honest) of their "quick fix methods."  There are so many variables that they don't consider.

I tried one of the popular cry-it out approaches when I had my second baby and was told it was "my fault" and she would never fall asleep by herself unless she was taught.  This experience is on my list of "things I regret doing as a young, inexperienced parent."  It didn't work. Yes, I did follow the instructions.  And it was awful.  It left me feeling like my head and heart were going to explode.   It felt abusive to me.  It went against every maternal instinct I have in my body, and it felt so wrong.  And it didn't work, did I say that already?  I know that I gave up after the third or fourth day after following the instructions, when things weren't progressing according to the "experts" plan.  After finding my daughter with a messy diaper and her leg between the crib bars, delirious with misery, looking at me like "how could you?" I vowed never ever to betray my maternal instincts.  It took me weeks to get back to where she didn't cling to me with panic when I approached her room.  I made matters so much worse than they ever were to begin with.  I've heard this same story so many times.  Of babies that cry so hard they throw up, found laying in their vomit, asleep from the pure exhaustion of crying so hard.  Of parents who felt the same as I did in their hearts-that this is not right, it's not natural, it's not healthy.  Of older siblings crying too-asking why their mommy and daddy weren't helping their baby brother or sister, he/she needs you-from the mouths of babes!

Here are some other myths I have learned about the cry-it out sleep training approaches:

They are usually sold as a one-time deal.  As in, once you get through the couple hard days of listening to your baby sob in his/her crib alone for however long (they all have different times) then you'll never have to do it again. They will have "learned" to go to sleep.  Even those silly old nanny 911 shows that promote sleep training don't show the whole picture.  Sure, I'm sure there are some babies who "need" to cry only once before they learn no one will come and comfort them, but I think the "cry it out" approaches result in much more crying over the first and second year than many of them let on to.  I know when I realized this I wasn't willing to ignore my child's needs this much, and I didn't have the heart to repeat the cry-it-out process over and over again.

The first and second year of a baby's life is a huge time of growth in every facet of their lives.

Here are some scenarios I have found that have disrupted sleep patterns in my babies lives-
  • Growth spurts-these were very defined periods where my babies needed to eat more-it is their way of adjusting the milk supply to meet their growing needs.  
  • Some babies get teeth somewhat magically, others drool and rub their mouths and feel relentless pain.
  • Ear infections and other illnesses-usually don't show themselves for a few days which are preceded by night waking and fussiness due to real pain and discomfort.  Sometimes "bad habits" are established during these times (rocking baby to comfort, keeping upright, etc") and the process must start over again.
  • Wakening due to a new skill-One time Janey was sound asleep but mumbling and doing the "roll it" gestures of Pat-A-Cake perfectly (better than she had ever done them awake!) that I had just taught her.  She was all of eight months I think at the time!  It made me laugh-how quickly their brain is forming and how many new skills they are learning.  I compare it to when we adults have a new exciting challenging project we just began or are working on-we go to bed thinking about it, we might wake up in the middle of the night thinking about it, and it's one of the first thoughts we think of in the morning.  This is how babies are-about sitting up, talking, crawling, walking, speaking.  Their brains are wired to be passionate about these learning these new things.
  • Separation Anxiety-here is a great article about the science behind separation anxiety.  It is a natural development phase as babies learn about object permanence and build trust.
  • Colic (real digestive pain-more on this later).
  • Allergies (my children have never dealt with allergies but I've had friends whose babies were terribly sensitive to food, or detergents, etc.)
  • Fears
  • Sensitivities-More on this later, but all of my children were born with different temperments and reacted to their new world in different ways.  Some babies are much more sensitive to their new world than others. 
  • Family changes-Vacations, illnesses, "stress" of every day living (a death in the family, a break from routine because of moving etc.)
4. Be wary of "expert" advice. I've learned to be careful of advice about letting my baby cry, from other people who do not have the connection I have with my baby.  It's sometimes easy for a pediatrician (especially a guy) to say "let him cry". It's not his baby, and he doesn't have the same connection I have-he doesn't (and isn't supposed to have!) the mommy hormones raging through my body (that I AM supposed to have) when it comes to hearing my baby cry.  I should know my baby best-this is what nature intended.  If a mother is truly bonded she will feel the call in her brain and heart and very soul to soothe her baby when that baby lets her know he/she needs it.

One of the popular sleep training methods is called "Ferberizing".  In my opinion it sounds like something that is much more suited to dog training than "baby training".  It requires a lot of crying-not straight crying alone, but crying with parents checking in specified amounts of time.  (Which would just escalate the crying all over again.  "Oh good,  you've come, I've been calling you, didn't you hear me crying for you? Please come and get me and hold me.  Your coming, yay!  NO NO NO wait, wait, please don't leave, please don't leave and ignore me again! Why are you walking away and leaving me again?"  Repeat, repeat, repeat, and then eventually "I'll just give up, they don't care" or fall asleep from pure exhaustion of sobbing so long.)  Even the author has serious concerns with what he feels are misinterpretations of his methods, and talks about that here.  Very interesting.

Another popular method is from the book Baby Wise.  I understand that the appeal in the Baby Wise book is the need for predictability and schedule.  A sense of order to our days as mothers can turn a feeling of being overwhelmed and frustrated into contentment and enjoyment.  Establishing a pattern is healthy for my mind. (I will talk about tips on how to do this without force later).  Being aware of eating/play/sleep pattern is good (and this pattern was not discovered by the author), as long as it is not so rigidly led by me (or some man who wrote a book) that I let baby cry, or don't feed him when he's hungry because "so and so says not to".  I think it is important for mothers to know that Gary Ezzo has been excommunicated from his church (his books are "Christian" based teachings), he has called himself Dr.when he is indeed not and perpetuated other falsehoods about his education, he has little to no experience with children, nor has he studied child development in any sense.  He strongly advocates spanking babies as young as 14 months (and that's the tip of the iceberg in terms of his discipline advice that is utterly abusive) , his views and logic are twisted and ignorant, and the AAP has written a statement against his book because of the increase in failure to thrive babies that have been reported when parents follow the rigid feeding schedule he recommends in his books. Many highly respected, well -known child specialists have spoken out strongly against him and his books. There are many other books that teach more gentle sleep training methods using the same pattern of feed/play/sleep and don't have an evil man behind them.  This is a perfect example of the necessity of being very careful who we mothers take advice from!

5. Also be wary of falling prey to the fear of "creating a lifetime of bad sleep habits" that proponents of cry-it-out methods often employ.  I've heard or read many times that if I didn't "train" my babies to sleep the way some experts suggested I would have toddlers with terrible sleep habits and then children with terrible sleep habits who would turn into adults with terrible sleep habits.  If my babies nursed to sleep, or if I rocked them, or "helped" them to sleep in any way, I would 'create a monster' so to speak.  I can tell you that this has not been my experience at all, quite the opposite.  My older toddlers (around 2 and up, depending on the child) and children have all gone to sleep easily in their own beds and slept through the night barring the occasional nightmare or illness.  We establish night time routines, when they are old enough to understand what it means to lay down, stay in bed, and go to sleep.

I've found that it IS possible to 'sleep-train' babies without tears or at the least avoid heart breaking angst.  I know it's hard to be up at night again and again, I know it's hard to be tired.  I've had "easy" babies and desperately difficult babies.  That's part two-my experience-coming soon.

Here is an interesting new study about co-sleeping!

40 Bags in 40 Days: The Basics

2014 Update-Last year I bowed out of the challenge (or just did little bits here and there and didn't blog about them) because I had baby Janey.  This year baby Janey is toddler Janey and requires less work, but not much less. :)  I will give my best attempt to post weekly updates of the rooms I've plowed through.  

On a side note: I signed up here this year to get daily Lenten reflections in my inbox, just thought I'd mention in case anyone else was interested.  

The Basics of 40 Bags in 40 Days:

The idea of Forty Bags in Forty Days is to "cleanse" your house of all clutter during the forty days of Lent by clearing out a small area and filling 40 bags with "stuff"-things you don't need, find useful, or love.  It is a manageable, easier way to do spring cleaning than all at once, especially since most of us have little ones that we need to care for all day.

The first step is to make a little schedule for yourself.  I use a simple piece of notebook paper.  (Here is a cute free printable schedule one of my blog readers made.)

I divide my house into forty areas.  My schedule might look like this:
Day 1: Master Bathroom Cabinet
Day 2: Master Bathroom Drawers
Day 3: Vanity Area
Day 4: Our Closet
Day 5: Master Bedroom
Day 6: Craft Cabinet
Day 7: Study
etc...

till I have 40 small manageable areas to work on each day.  Some days I can plow through four areas and buy myself some time, which allows me to skip a day or two when I just can't meet my goal.

There is no right way to purge your home, some work better in bursts, some work better in tiny chunks-do whatever is not stressful and works for you at this time of your life.

Now there is no way I could fill up 40 bags, or even close to it after the first year of doing 40 Bags/40 Days. That's the number one benefit of doing this Lenten purge-once you experience how good an uncluttered house feels you never want to go back to having too much stuff!  I am more vigilant about what I bring in.


My Supplies:
Black garbage bags. You can use any kind you want-even small grocery bags, but I use black because kids can't see through them, and the size works well for me.  Sneaky purger that I am, I don't want my decisions questioned.

No, I don't ransack my children's bedrooms and throw away all of their beloved treasures, but it's better if that plastic broken battery-hogging toy that my son hasn't touched in 5 years magically disappear without
rearing it's ugly head to be seen and desperately missed by all.

I also have Magic Erasers, paper towels (or rags), spray cleaner and my vacuum.

I wipe down counters, wipe out cabinets, shelves, and countertops while I'm purging. I go through packs of Magic Erasers. (I can do this because I only have one little one home all day-if you have a baby or babies, maybe just stick with the purge, and not with the spring clean.)

Tips:
I keep in mind that my goal is to touch everything in the room or area that I am working on. If I
have boxes, clothes, books, toys...no matter what, I go through each item and make a decision to
keep, give away, throw away.

I figure out what I am going to do with the bags once full. I give books away to a local foundation that resells them, I pitch the garbage, I give the rest to Goodwill  because they have a drop-off station 2 minutes away. I don't do resale shops or garage sales, because for me, it's just too much work. I throw the Goodwill bags right into the back of my van, and make the run as soon as I get a chance.

I work really quickly. Obviously, the bigger and the more complicated the room, the longer it takes,
but I don't puzzle over decisions, or get distracted by other things...besides Patrick of course. I
don't answer my phone...my goal is to get the job done as quickly as possible.
I keep a visual in mind. How do you want I my house to look?  For me it's clean, sparse, and organized:

I always go back in my head to the first months we moved into this house. I had really wanted to start fresh. I had given away a lot of stuff from our old house...I purged like crazy when we moved. We had no closet or
storage space in our old 1840 house either...so when we settled into this house it was very simple, very
empty, very refreshing. I filled one drawer where there was now 5. The kids used just tiny bits of their
closets. Some rooms had just a few items of furniture. It was so easy to keep clean and I felt so energized
without so many belongings. Sometimes I get out my old photos from when we first moved in, and that
motivates me to bring my home back to where I loved it.

The other visual: What if I had to show my house in minutes as if we were selling it? I know this is hard core...but I learned my lesson once with my first house...we put off all these little projects that we wanted to do forever, lived with them forever, inconvenient and all, and when we went to sell our house, here we were running around getting it all done for SOMEONE else to live in and enjoy! Ridiculous!  I make a list of those little projects, and work on them later in the year.

So it helps me to think, even though we will never move, that is my ideal for this space/room to look like? Sometimes we get used to things and don't realize how cluttered up, or inconvenient they are. Trying a fresh eye...a "perspective buyer's eye" has helped me.

(My past posts about 40 Bags here.)