Friday, April 29, 2011

What To Say?

She was one of the first people I met my first year of college. She waited outside my dorm so we could walk to class together. We stayed up late talking on the phone even though we lived on the same campus. We attended church together every Sunday evening. She gave me advice and even though it wasn't always what I wanted to hear, it was what I needed to hear. She and I graduated the same year and got an off campus apartment together. Then we lived together several years later in a different apartment. She tolerated my mess even though I'm sure it drove her crazy. She was one of the first people I called after Rob proposed. She slept over at my house the night before my wedding. She made a beautiful bridesmaid. I was at the hospital the day she delivered her daughter. She is the Godmother of both my children. "Lifelong friend" is an understatement.

This morning my phone rang. The precious baby boy she delivered on Monday has gone to be with God in heaven. Four days old. I didn't get to meet him. She barely got to hold him. He was born prematurely and spent his days in the NICU fighting for his life.

God must really need him in heaven.

What can I say to my dear friend that will be of any help? I can't possibly understand what she is going through.

I spent this evening in silence on the couch, unable to do anything except ask, "Why, why, why? Why!" I will be with my friend in a few days and I pray that I will know what to do and what to say. Maybe all she needs is a good, long hug from an old friend. At this moment, I feel that is all I can offer.

Nothing in life prepares a mother for the death of her child.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Co-sleeping Advice Needed

Rob and I didn't know much about co-sleeping when we became parents but it seemed so natural in the beginning that we didn't hesitate to give it a shot. Our oldest was in the bed with us until he became too squirmy and we received too many kicks to the face. Then we moved him to the co-sleeper attached to the bed. At 6 months, we moved him to the crib. When he was almost 2, we moved him to a toddler bed. Now, at 3, he sleeps wonderfully in a regular twin bed. He gets 12 hours of sleep a night and still takes a 2 hour nap every single day. We are thrilled with how everything turned out! :)

Fast forward to our second son. He started out sleeping in our bed and stayed there much longer than our first. He slept well and so did we but then he got bigger and started sprawling out horizontally so that there was very little room left for us. We decided around 5 months to move him to a mattress at the foot of our bed and see how that worked out. He did pretty well on the mattress but around 6 months, we thought we'd move him to his crib. Why? Honestly, I think because we did that with our first and it was the "proper" thing to do. He was still getting up once or twice a night to nurse and I stupidly thought that moving him to his crib might help him sleep better. The transition was pretty smooth and we thought we were in the clear...

A few nights into it we realized that he was not going to sleep better. He would still wake to nurse AND he would wake simply because he was in a different, somewhat strange, location. No warm bodies next to him and no sounds of breathing to which he'd become accustomed...what's a baby to do?

Whenever we traveled, we'd stick him in our bed because it was easier than trying to get him to sleep in a playpen. It was no surprise that we all slept much better. The first night we returned home from a trip was always the worst because he'd gotten used to sleeping with us again and didn't want to be in his crib. A few times I put him in bed with me and Rob slept on the couch (because our bed was too crowded with 3). I'm embarrassed to admit it, but we all slept incredibly well. But Rob shouldn't have to sleep on the couch!!

So, our options are twofold: Rob continues to sleep on the couch while the baby and I are in the bed or we save up enough money to either buy a king sized bed or a queen mattress for the baby's room. If we bought a mattress for the floor of his room, I could sleep there when needed but I could also return to my bed. But then when he learns to walk, he'll be all over his room all night long. I am not comfortable with that idea.

Ultimately, I want him to develop healthy sleep habits. That is my #1 goal. I want him to sleep well like his brother. We are just going to have to go down a different path to get to that point. My fear is that he will become so comfortable in our bed that he will never transition to his own. We would like to have more children and we need him to be a good sleeper before the next baby is co-sleeping in our bed. To bed honest, I am not thrilled with the idea of a family bed. I don't want more than one child in with us at any given time.

Any advice you may have on co-sleeping and what worked for you would be greatly appreciated. We are incredibly sleep-deprived at the moment (last night was really rough) so we know this is the best option at this point. Just wondering how other parents fared. Thanks in advance! :)

Friday, April 15, 2011

Parenting the 1st baby vs. the 2nd baby

Situation: You're at a cookout with the baby and you don't know that many people. But you're hungry. Starving, in fact. It's killing you to watch person after person fill a plate and walk over to the picnic tables to happily consume delicious BBQ chicken and smoked ribs. Your mouth is watering.

With 1st baby: Holding the baby in one arm, you gingerly collect a few carrots, some celery, and a handful of chips. There is nowhere to put the baby to free up your other hand so you can dive into the "real"food. So you get what you can manage and join the crowd at the tables, still famished.

With 2nd baby: Approaching a complete stranger, "Wanna hold my baby so I can grab some food? Yeah? Thanks so much!" *scamper eagerly over to the grill to fill a plate*


Situation: You are nursing your 8-month-old baby on the couch at a friend's party. In between attempts to throw the blanket off her head and expose you to the whole room, the baby manages to eat her fill. Your 2nd cousin twice removed approaches you and asks how long you plan on nursing the baby. She is, after all, 8 months old. Shouldn't that have stopped long ago?

With 1st baby: "Well, there are a lot of benefits to nursing a baby until she's a year old. At that point I can put her on cow's milk and it'll be safe, but I might continue nursing just a little while beyond that. It's hard to wean overnight, you know. But the breast really is best. Babies have such a delicate system and breastmilk is designed perfectly to meet their needs...."

With 2nd baby: "I'd be happy to switch my precious baby over to formula if you'll agree to buy it for me every week for the next four months."


Situation: Your baby is a few months old and you've been getting up multiple times each night to feed and comfort her. It's beginning to wear on you and you're feeling more fatigued than you ever thought you could. In the middle of the deepest part of your sleep cycle, you hear crying through the monitor.

With 1st baby: Like a flash of lightning, you bolt out of bed and race to the baby's room. After all, she might be stuck in the crib railings. She might be suffocating underneath a blanket. She might have figured out how to stand up and climb out at 3 months old!

With 2nd baby: Your husband nudges you in bed, "Honey...honey...the baby's crying. What? Don't you hear her? Honey, I think she's been crying a might want to go see if she's hungry...."


Situation: The AAP recommends that children under 2 years old watch no TV. That's right; none. No cartoons, no Disney Channel, no Baby Einstein DVDs...nothing.

With 1st baby: You buy flash cards, puzzles, and workbooks and engage your child in the practice of active learning. You visit the library weekly and your child checks out 10 books at a time. He develops a love of reading and after his 2nd birthday, you slowly but surely introduce TV so that he has an idea of what his playgroup friends are talking about. Only one 30 minute show per day though.

With 2nd baby: Your 6-month-old crawls over to the TV, presses the green ON button, climbs up on the couch and gets comfortable next to his brother. Elmo? Oh, my favorite!


Situation: Because peanut allergies have become very common in children, parents are advised to not introduce peanuts or peanut butter until age 3.

With 1st baby: Peanuts are forbidden in the house and an extremely small jar of peanut butter is hidden in the highest kitchen cabinet, only to be consumed after the child is in bed. Every playgroup attended is "peanut-free" and by the time the child is 3-years-old, he wants nothing to do with the stuff. The mere mention of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich sends him screaming into the other room.

With 2nd baby: Upon entering the kitchen, you spot your 7-month-old baby chowing down on the remains of a stale peanut butter sandwich that she confiscated from the garbage can. You do nothing.

Amazing how much more relaxed we parents become, isn't it? ;)

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Teaching Your Child to Read

There is no more important skill for a child to learn than that of reading. Everything depends on it from history to science and even math. Failing to instill a love of reading in a child, in my opinion, is tantamount to child neglect. While there are products and services such as Hooked on Phonics and Click N Kids are available to provide a structured guidance for parents who would like some professional assistance in teaching their child how to read, I'd like to share some of the simple methods we've used that have resulted in our oldest craving the written word.

  1. Start early! I'll never forget the looks Chanel gave me when I started sitting down with our oldest with letter flashcards when he was about 6 months old. It's never too early to start, so long as they are willing participants. Their forming brains react to and grow from stimulation and even simple letter cards provide plenty. Mix up the interactions with the cards, too. For example, instead of showing the cards sequentially, lay out two or three in front of your child and ask where each letter is. You'll be able to monitor progression in the level of recognition this way.
  2. Add the alphabet to your routine at night. As our oldest started to move past recognition of the letters to being able to recite them, I started a short-term tradition of saying the alphabet in the bath. One of the bath toys was especially helpful: foam letters. They also came with numbers, but every one of them when wet would stick to the side of the tub. (On a side note, they also provided an indicator to when it was time to clean the tub as they tended not to stick so well after a while). Then, when we were putting the letters away, we'd try to take them out of the tub and put them on the shelf in order.
  3. Visit your local library early and often. After your child has moved past some of the fundamentals like the alphabet, it is imperative that they be surrounded with the written word to be comfortable with it. Participate in your library's activities for children whenever possible to build a positive association for the place. Familiarize yourself with the kids' section and checkout a variety of books to have them around the house. Since there are books on every topic, figure out what excites your tyke and get books on it. Cars? Plenty of books. Animals? Yours for the asking! The universe is at your fingertips...don't you want to pass it down to your kids? 

Friday, April 1, 2011

Breaking the Silence

Kudos to Chanel for continuing to contribute to this online repository of our parenting experiences through the last several weeks. As you know, I have been unemployed for the last several weeks and attribute my silence to concentrating all of my efforts on my job search. Still, at the time I was let go, I was two weeks delinquent on writing anything for our dear readers' amusement and enjoyment.

We are amusing at times, aren't we?

Being unemployed has been one of the toughest challenges for me in my adult life. I have always worked. There have been times when I worked two jobs. I worked through many years of college.

In our family unit, I work and make the money while Chanel stays home and raises the children. Not being able to hold up my end of the bargain is extraordinarily difficult. Chanel cannot effectively do her job with my inability to do mine: there can be no trips to museums, indoor play areas, zoos (granted the weather isn't right for that yet), nothing that costs admission because what money we have must go to food and other essentials.

A conclusion we have come to regarding my next job is that we are ready to move. We've looked at the job listings in our area and doing what I want and am able to do simply does not allow us to provide the lifestyles to our kids that we have always wanted to give them. This area is just too expensive and when similar positions pay equivalent salaries in areas of the country that have a considerably lower cost of living, you really have to ask yourself what's keeping you in the area. For us, it's always been family but the scale between family and everything else has started to tip. Check out the CNN Relocation Calculator and see what you would need to make elsewhere in the country to live comparably to where you are now. It's mind blowing. Housing costs are 54% less in Nashville, TN than they are in our area, yet a job listing there will show a similar salary to an identical job here in NJ. Granted the data is as of March 2010, but I doubt it's changed much.

I'll be traveling to Atlanta next week for an interview at a small company there. Same number of people, actually, as my last employer, pretty much, but their revenues are eight times higher. If I get the job, I'll be doing essentially the same job I had with different chemicals, have people reporting to me, and have the support infrastructure-wise that was always missing at my last job.

Hopefully soon I'll also hear back from a company in Kentucky that I phone interviewed with recently. Then there's the recruiter trying to get me in the door for a plant in southwest West Virginia or St. Louis, MO. All told, the job search is going better now than it has in the last several weeks. It's only a matter of time before something hits.

Handouts and Humiliation

I will preface this post by saying it is dripping with emotion. There are no facts. Nothing can be proven or disproven. I am simply writing from the heart and I really hope my readers will withhold any judgemental comments, seeing as this is an incredibly sensitive topic for many.

The four of us rode into Trenton on Monday morning and arrived promptly at 8:30 on the doorstep of the social services building. While riding through the parking lot trying to find a spot, I couldn't help but notice that every car in one particular row had a club on its steering wheel. Every single car. Now, I realize that Trenton isn't exactly the safest city in America but come on. I was going to ask Rob if we should have a club for our car but then I remembered our poor 2001 Town & Country van wasn't exactly in its prime. Its hay day had long since passed. With paint chipping off, large gashes in the side, and a piece of the bumper barely hanging on, I figured carjackers would pass on our pretty kitty.

Why were we in Trenton that morning? Well, since Rob had lost his job and I hadn't worked in 3 years (for pay anyway), we were told we might qualify for government assistance. We had an appointment with a social worker that morning and we were to bring 1,687 pieces of documentation with us to prove everything under the sun. Oh, and we had to bring the kids. Wonderful. An almost three-year-old and an eight-month-old cooped up in a small room for God knows how long while their parents fill out paperwork. We were certainly looking forward to a fun-filled Monday morning!

We plopped the kids in the double stroller along with a bag of toys for their entertainment and strolled in. Although we supposedly had the first appointment, there must have been 40 people in the waiting room. We had to go through security, get in line, and then wait for our number to be called. From the moment we walked through the door, I felt eyes upon us. It seemed most people were checking out our stroller. It's an Eddie Bauer double stroller, probably about $250, but we got it for free from a generous friend who no longer needed it. It's in excellent shape and the kids love it so we take it wherever we go. Why do we qualify for assistance when we show up with this expensive stroller, right? One woman even commented, "I see you've got your Cadillac with you." Ugh. To explain or not to explain???

The wait was long. We took a spot in the back of the room and let our kids open the toy bag and play for a bit. Oops, wrong move. Why do we qualify for assistance when we have an entire bag of toys for our kids to play with? More stares. Double ugh. I brought the toys so that our kids wouldn't act out and disrupt anyone else who was there. No other kids had toys though. Talk about feeling very out of place. We continued to wait. We were one of the few families in our section of the room who spoke English. We were in the minority as far as race goes as well.

Our number was called on the loudspeaker so we gathered all of our belongings together and followed the lady down several hallways. She took us into a room the size of a small cubical that had a desk, two chairs, a bench, and a window. The darn stroller took up 2/3 of the room! The lady asked to see our paperwork and it turned out that we were missing a few items, even though we'd brought an entire folder of documents. Rob was born in Italy (to military parents) and his birth certificate should have a stamp signifying that he's an American citizen. Well, he's had that birth certificate for 31 years and has never had a problem with it. Now, all of a sudden, it's invalid. What?? Geez. He was told he needs to "fix" his birth certificate to prevent any future issues. Ok...triple ugh.

We were then asked what grade we had completed in school. Rob has a Bachelor's and I have a Master's. We felt humiliated. We *shouldn't* be in this situation with college degrees, right? Quadruple ugh. Unemployment can happen to anyone.; no one is exempt. Rob's company is closing so he's out of a job. I decided to take some time off from teaching to stay home and raise my children. We certainly didn't anticipate we'd both be unemployed at the same time. And we could have never anticipated the current state of the economy.

We discovered that we qualify for food stamps but not until Rob can prove he is an American citizen. Oh, and we need to prove that we have lived in our house for at least five years. And the loan statements that we brought weren't proof enough. But at some point, we will be mailed a food stamps debit card. Please don't get me wrong- I am incredibly grateful for that- it's just such a complicated process. I know that while we were employed, both Rob and I paid into these government assistance funds so we'd be able to use them if need be. But I'm frustrated that we actually need to use them. And I'm even more frustrated that because the system is so widely abused, it's become such a hassle for those who truly need it.

We learned that our kids' medical bills will be covered but that Rob and I might have to go without health insurance for a while. A little scary, but I'm happy that at least the kids will still be able to see the doctor.

Nearly three hours later, we were able to go home. The kids were tired and hungry but thankfully, they behaved like troopers. They have no idea where we were or why we were there. They have no idea Daddy doesn't have a job or that there is no more money coming in. They have no idea the amount of stress we have been under for the past 6 weeks.They have no idea how long Rob spends job searching or how many companies he's applied to. They have no idea that we pray like crazy every night for our situation to improve. We feel like we have failed our kids, even though circumstances beyond our control have created our situation. But we trudge on. I know one day we'll be able to look back on this as a slight bump in the road. Yet, when you've fallen in a hole and you aren't able to see the way out, you feel like you will be stuck down there forever.