Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Going Through the Bad Parenting Decisions to Get to the Good Ones (and a stay in bed suggestion)

One of the problems with blogging is that you end up giving a slightly skewed vision of your parenting.  I often come across as much more serene and thoughtful than I actually am in reality.  I certainly do put a lot of thought into my parenting, but let's just say I do better thinking at my keyboard than I do standing in the middle of the living room with two tired / sick / hungry / all of the above children.

In an effort to redress this, let me relate the events of one evening a couple of weeks ago.  My husband was out, so I was putting the children to bed by myself.

The Bad Decisions

We actually have to back up a little for this story.  While we'd been away on holiday, my two year old daughter had been anxious about sleeping in a strange room, and so I'd sat in with her every night until she fell asleep.  I am actually in the habit of doing this with her at naptime anyway, but in the evenings, her brother's going to sleep too, so she had been fine with his company.  Not so when we were staying with our friends, and I figured it wasn't unreasonable for me to sit with her for twenty minutes every evening... so long as she didn't expect this to continue when we got home.

She did.

Anyway, on this night, the second since we'd got back, I was determined that I was not going to sit in with her.  We were going to go cold turkey on this, she and I.  So I started by putting her back to bed every time she got up.  At first I told her firmly that she was not allowed to get up.  After a few times, I switched to putting her back to bed in silence.

What didn't help was that her four year old brother didn't want to be left in the room by himself, so he got up too, and I would have to get them both back to bed.  I admit, I get a lot more impatient with him over this, because we've already been through this stage with him!

So it didn't take long before I started getting cross about this.  I tried ignoring them... when I heard them on the stairs, I paid no attention and carried on at the computer.  Naturally they came all the way up to me and gave me the big-eyed pout with a few whimpers thrown in.  I tried shutting the door on them, and that triggered full on sobs.

The Ugly Decisions

Finally, my temper got the better of me, and I hauled them back to bed with a good scolding. My son was subdued by the threat of no television the following day (a near foolproof strategy with him).  When my daughter got up again, I really let her have it.  I mentally justified my tirade with the thought that if I made myself thoroughly unlikable, then the bed would seem the better alternative.  Not so... my daughter will take even a screaming banshee of a mother over bed.

Following my theory to its illogical conclusion, I decided that the best thing to do would be to remove myself from the equation.  If my daughter could not find her mother, then she might as well go back to bed and go to sleep, right?  Right?  So the next time she got up, I hid myself.

Yes, I think you can all spot the cruel flaw in my logic there.  I'm in no way proud of that... but that's why I wanted to write it down, so I can't pretend it didn't happen.  This is what I'm capable of doing when I'm tired and stressed.

... and One Good Decision

Anyway, after I'd soothed my now traumatised daughter, I had a new problem: how do I convince her to stay in bed when I've already shaken her faith that I am still nearby, even if I'm not in the room? So I put her back to bed, and sat down at the top of the stairs a few feet from her door.  When she came running out of her room crying, I let her sit down next to me.  I didn't actively engage her, but I also didn't push her away or make any indication that she should go back to bed.  Gradually, she calmed down.

I decided that I would let her sit there until she chose to go back to bed of her own accord, no matter how long it took (by now my husband was home and somewhat confused about what had been going on, but he couldn't fill in for me; at night, my daughter is a Mum-only girl).  After twenty minutes, she was literally nodding off, but she stuck determinedly to her step, holding onto the rail for support--it was terribly cute and a very good way for me to regain my calm too. 

Eventually, when an hour had passed, I caved and asked if she wanted to go to bed. She groggily agreed, and I led her back to her bedroom and tucked her in.  I didn't wait, but I still think she was asleep before I left the room.

As horrendous as the evening was, it was worth it for that moment of inspiration: the top of the steps.  It's a neutral zone where she can reassure herself I'm still there, and I can wait quietly while she goes to sleep without being afraid to move or to leave too early. (It's really hard to tell when my daughter is asleep vs on the verge of sleep.)  It's also something I should be able to replicate in most places we stay.

I've repeated and refined it every night since.  At first, I would wait a suitable interval, and then ask my daughter if she wanted to go to bed (which always got an affirmative), but after a few days she started getting up herself when she was ready to go back to bed.  Initially, she would be crying when she came out of her room, but that also lasted only a few days. Aside from that first night, I was always able to put her down and leave her awake... sometimes she would get back up again, but whenever she did fall asleep, it was without me in the room.

The biggest issue we had was her brother, who was not impressed at her going out to sit with me.  Having him sit on the step as well proved to be too distracting as they'd inevitably start messing around with each other, so I had to enforce a double standard: she was allowed to get up and sit with me; he was not.  I tried to explain to him that she was younger than he was, and she was never going further than the top of the step. I also explained that she needed to learn to go to sleep without me while he needed to learn to go to sleep without anybody, but this went down like a lead balloon. 

I ended up just using the no TV tomorrow threat with him on a regular basis (we had to carry through with this once) to make him stay in bed.  I did however come to a compromise where if he was upset, I would leave my daughter on the step and go in to him for a moment, and that seemed to help a lot. He still doesn't like it, but fortunately these days her time out of the room is very brief. 

We went through a few nights where she was coming out and just messing around, and when she did go back to bed, she got straight back up again, beaming at me.  So I started silently putting her back to bed as soon as she got up.  She hated that, and while I allowed her to sit down on the step if she got herself genuinely upset, we soon had a groundrule laid down that if I put her back to bed and told her it was time to go to sleep now, it would do her no good to ignore me.

It's done wonders for her sense of security though.  It's much easier dealing with overnight wake ups now, as she usually doesn't mind us leaving the room again.  At some point, I'll try doing it for her nap as well, though I haven't had the nerve to make that change yet.

In the past few days, I've been able to keep my time on the stairs very brief.  I put her to bed, she gets straight up, sits with me for a few minutes and then I suggest she goes back to bed.  Most of the time, she does not get up again (though I have heard her giggling and talking to her brother).  It's a simple, short part of the night-time routine and I could probably keep it up for years if necessary, though I'll likely reach a point where I push for her not to get up at all.

Right now though, I'm just relieved that I worked this issue out without further psychological scarring of my children.  Is it too much to hope that for our next problem I can achieve my goal of zero psychological scarring?

Monday, 18 March 2013

Holidaying through the Norovirus

We're back from our trip, which was... well, not quite what we hoped for, but definitely what we needed!  We were visiting friends who had moved ten hours up the road from us... seemed like a good excuse to visit upstate New York.

I wanted to start the drive Tuesday evening, so we could do a big chunk while the kids were asleep, and break the journey up with a motel stop and some sightseeing.  My husband was in favour of just doing one long slog on Wednesday.

The choice was taken out of our hands when our son came down with a recurrence of the stomach bug we'd all had two weeks ago in the early hours of Monday morning.  We figured leaving Tuesday might be a bad idea now, but we weren't too concerned, seeing as the bug had been a 24 hour thing the first time around.

Not this time.  He had three days of intermittent vomiting and grogginess.  On Wednesday, we hauled him into the doctor's office and got some anti-nausea medication for him.

Thursday was the point when we had to decide are we doing this trip or not?  We couldn't be that flexible on the return date, so every day we pushed back leaving would make the drive less worth it.  We were worried about contagion, but our friends had taken leave in anticipation of our arrival, and we didn't want to waste that for them as well.  They were still in favour of us coming, but there was a lot of discussion between me and my husband.

The deciding factor was that my son wanted to go.  He had been looking forward to the trip for ages, and although on Wednesday all he wanted to do was lie in bed, on Thursday he was adamant that he wanted to make the trip.  So we threw everything in the car and made a slightly delayed start at 10am.  We reached our friends' house just before 9:30.

The drive went much more smoothly than I ever dreamed.  We had been more or less housebound for three days and our daughter was so ecstatic to be going somewhere, she wasn't at all bothered at being stuck in the car.  She looked out of the windows, played with the toys, activities, iPad and was generally beautifully behaved.

We were very worried about my son, who was no longer throwing up but tended to be in a lot of pain after eating.  We believe he was getting stomach cramps.  He had been on a diet of water and peanut butter sandwiches ever since getting sick.  I had a loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter in the car with me, so I could make him a sandwich whenever he felt able to eat.  We also drummed it into him that anytime he wanted a potty break, he should tell us immediately, but thankfully that did not become an issue!

Although he was clearly very uncomfortable, he handled it pretty well, except for the last couple of hours.  We had both the kids in their pajamas for the last stretch and, based on previous traveling experience, assumed they'd both fall asleep and it would be the easiest part of the drive.  Unfortunately, exhaustion over-rode my son's tolerance for his discomfort.  After a short sleep, he woke up and started crying because he wanted to lie down properly and screaming with every stomach cramp.  That woke up his sister, and we were all very relieved when we finally got to the house.

By the end of the following day, our son was more or less back to normal, but we did pass the bug onto our friends (went through the entire family, hitting the parents hardest) and I came down with a light spell myself.  Our friends were very nice about it though--and at least we'd brought medication with us.  My son no longer needed it, so we passed the pills around the grown ups instead.

Because of this, we kept the holiday fairly low-key, and gave up the idea of going to Niagara Falls.  However, the visit itself was such a rousing success that we're already planning a do-over.  Our children are all close in age so they played with each other and were almost entirely self-entertaining, while we grown-ups chatted and chilled.  Bliss.

Now we're back and although my daughter's worked her way through another cold, everybody is basically healthy and I'm hoping I might actually get to do some of the stuff I planned on doing with my free mornings, instead of playing nurse!

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Songs for Shakers

We're preparing for a ten hour car trip with the children and hoping to stop as little as possible.  One of the things I've packed in my newly created Fidget Basket are our little egg-shakers, plus the lone maraca I once picked up at a thrift store.  I'm planning to go through my shaker-song list with the kids as part of our in-car entertainment. (Well, entertaining for the children; possibly not so much for my husband.)

Over the years, I've made note of shaker songs whenever I came across them at various story-times, and I've built up quite a little collection now.  I've never had much luck googling for them though, so this seems like a good time to share my research with the internet.

Ingredients for a Good Shaker Song

While you can use shakers to any song with an obvious rhythm, children love the ones that get them moving their shakers in different ways.  Most shaker songs tend to get them putting shakers on parts of their body or going through up and down and side to side, usually to the tune of a familiar nursery rhyme.  I've also come across a few with original tunes which tend to be more popular with the children I've sung to.  Pro-tip: anything with a 'stop!' in the song is a big highlight.

Actions are usually self-explanatory.  I learned most of these at the Baby Garden storytime, at the Mary D Pretlow Anchor Branch Library.

This is the way we start our day
(tune: Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush)
This is the way we start our day,
Start our day, start our day.
This is the way we start our day,
So early in the morning!

First we go side to side…

Next we go up and down…

Then we go all round…

This is the way we start our day...

Shake your bells
(tune: Frere Jacques)
Shake your bells,
Shake your bells,
High and low,
High and low.
Shake them really fast,
Shake them really fast,
Just like this,
Just like this.

Shake your bells,
Shake your bells,
Side to side,
Side to side,
Shake them really slow,
Shake them really slow,
Just like this,
Just like this.

For the next pair of songs, any body part can be used.  I generally work up the body, so the second verse picks something of the lower half, the third verse something from the upper half, and the fourth has something on the head.  Ending on the head means that we're tapping more gently, winding down to a peaceful rather than exuberant finish.

I Shake My Bells Today
(tune: Farmer in the Dell)
I shake my bells today,
I shake my bells today,
I shake them all around the room,
I shake my bells today.

I tap them on my toe…

I tap them on my chest…

I tap them on my cheek…

Can you shake along with me?
(tune: London Bridge is Falling Down)
Can you shake along with me,
Along with me, along with me?
Can you shake along with me?
It’s as easy as can be!

Place the shaker on your knee…

Place the shaker on your arm…

Place the shaker on your nose…

The remaining songs have original tunes.  You can find videos of Bell Horses being sung on Youtube, but I didn't want to embed somebody's home video just for the sake of sharing the tune!  I can't find Shake Your Shaker online at all, I'm afraid, so you'll have to make it up!

Shake Your Shaker
Shake, shake, shake your shaker,
Shake, shake, shake your shaker,
Shake, shake, shake your shaker,
And now we stop!

Roll, roll, roll your shaker…

Tap, tap, tap your shaker…

Bell Horses

Bell horses, bell horses,
What’s the time of day?
Bell horses, bell horses,
What’s the time of day?
One o’clock,
Two o’clock,
Three o’clock I say!

I shake my bells up high!
I shake my bells down low!
I shake them, shake them, shake them, shake them
Then I make them stop!

Bell horses, bell horses,
What’s the time of day?

I’m Going to Kentucky
I’m going to Kentucky,
I’m going to the fair,
To see a seƱorita,
With flowers in her hair.
Shake it, baby, shake it,
Shake it while you can.
Shake it like a milkshake,
And pour it in a can.
Shake it to the bottom,
Shake it to the top,
Shake it round and round and round,
Until I tell you… stop!

Finally, here's another on Youtube, though the lyrics are hard to make out. Shake Your Shakers, Shake, Shake, Shake