Extracurriculars, already?

I have no one to blame but myself (well, maybe my mom too since it was a Christmas gift) but my kiddo already has a “thing.”

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He’s only four and already has an extracurricular activity! I’m not really upset about it; it just makes me feel old (and a little nervous as to what a hectic, “scheduled” life we are too soon going to be leading.)

We signed Miles up for gymnastics about a month ago, and he’s already gone to two sessions. The third is tonight. He LOVES it! One of his buddies from school is in the class; he gets to run and jump and twirl.

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And they mean business in this class. He sits on a dot, does stretching, has spun around the tall bar on the uneven bars, jumped on a balance beam and even vaulted! We are very pleased with this. It was one of the reasons we joined the YMCA. Thankfully our family is enjoying some of the other benefits (swimming and working out so far!)

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We love that Miles is involved with this, but decided one thing was enough. Let’s wait a little while longer to get too much on our plate.

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How do you keep your kids from getting overscheduled?

First day of school

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It has come and gone… the first day of school.

There was some fretting (my part, not really his) and some excitement (definitely Michael and my part and his).

The drop off went smoothly — a few extra hugs and brief puppy dog eyes but mostly smiles.

Miles at school.

Miles at school.

Miles was in school last year — preschool four days a week for three hours — but this felt more official. It is nearly a full school day 8:15 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. (it ended up being past 2 p.m. before he made it back in the car as the “car riders line” didn’t go all that smoothly on this first day of school) five days a week. It’s a much larger classroom (15 students instead of the five most days at St. Theresa’s), and the expectations of independence are a lot higher here.

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Goofy kiddo

Goofy kiddo

I talked to Miles over the phone as soon as he got home. My takeaway — they didn’t have time for recess, he really wants to ride the bus, there are some fun toys to play with, he made friends but can’t remember their names and, most importantly, he’s excited to go back tomorrow.

I’ll take it! I can’t wait to see how tomorrow goes!

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Happy birthday Miles

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All children are blessings, even the ones we aren’t expecting and at first weren’t necessarily planning for. But I’m pretty sure on this day four years ago, my Miles was an extra special blessing bringing joy at a time for my family that was filled with grief and sadness.

I was about four months pregnant with Miles when my dad passed away. While we knew my dad’s death was inevitable — the terminal cancer diagnosis made that pretty clear — none of us ever expected it would come as quickly as it did. The diagnosis came weeks before Michael and I married — March of 2009. Doctors told us that if he did nothing he’d have about a year, but my dad fought like hell, and we didn’t even get that full year.

We wanted a child badly but wouldn’t have gotten started on our quest to have one so quickly in normal circumstances. But I wanted to give my dad the gift of being a grandfather, and I wanted the joy of seeing my dad be the amazing, loving grandparent I knew he would be. Those last five months of my pregnancy both crawled and zoomed by. I didn’t have much energy to focus on it really as much of my world was wrapped up in the loss of my dad.

When the big delivery day came I was a bundle of emotions. Most of them were happy but a part of me was afraid of what it would feel like when Miles was finally here. It was yet another huge part of my life that I would have to experience without my dad. Would it still be happy? Could I let myself feel the sheer and blinding joy that comes with welcoming a child into the world?

When I heard that first shrill cry from my baby I knew the answer — YES! I cried and cried and cried. But those tears were happy. I was so overwhelmed with love and a sudden purpose that I felt like I would explode. Of course there was grief there. I wanted my dad so badly to be there. But those feelings were right there along with the joy and happy not overshadowing them.

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And my little guy, I can’t begin to describe what he’s given me and the rest of my family. He gave us all a reason to laugh and be happy again. He was our new focus. Of course we still grieved by dad, heck we still do today. I’m crying right now in grief. But I see so much of my dad in this kid it is scary.

Fourth of July parade in Vincennes in 2013

Beyond the love and joy he’s brought to me (and the rest of us) he’s taught me a lot about myself and life. He’s taught me that things don’t always go as planned, to find joy in the simple things, what a coal tinder is, how much fun a mud puddle can be, patience and a million other things.

Today this blessing turns four.

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I love you to pluto and back.

The blessing of a rested child

Typically when I’ve written about sleep recently, it has been about a lack of it. Our new kiddo, like many babies, isn’t a super fan of sleeping through the night.
That is definitely still the case (I’m keeping my fingers crossed that my now 9-month-old blessing eventually realizes the joys of sleeping for longer than three-hour stretches) but the latest is about my other kiddo actually sleeping.

Miles goes 100 miles a minute around the clock. The kid just doesn’t have a calm or even medium speed. He is going from the moment he wakes up until he finally falls asleep. And some nights that “finally falls asleep” doesn’t happen until 11 p.m. It’s like he can’t wind down.

As usual, I turned to the vast overinformation highway that is Google and searched for some strategies. There are COUNTLESS. I tried many of them — limited/no screen time X hours before bedtime, warm bath, consistent routine, soothing music, meditation, reading stories, laying with him, avoiding certain foods and drinks, lots of activity to wear them down, etc. Nothing seemed to work. I tried each of these, many in combination with one another. We tried earlier bedtime, later bedtime, dropping the nap, having the nap — I felt a little lost and frustrated.

He was not in there screaming and crying but instead was just playing. But it still made me crazy because the lack of sleep was having a HUGE impact on him. He would fall asleep anywhere between 9 and 11 p.m. and wake up as early as 5 a.m. and never any later than 6:30 a.m. no matter what time he fell asleep. That’s significantly less than the amount of sleep recommended for a 3 year old. Heck, it’s less than adults should be getting.

What happens when you don’t get enough sleep? What about when you go weeks, heck months, without enough sleep? Yep, you get cranky. I certainly do. And as an adult I know to keep that crankiness in check (at least most of the time). But when you are 3, social norms and human decency aren’t always at the top of your list. So that crankiness manifests itself in lots of different ways — inability to sit still or listen, crazy behavior, tantrums and general attitude — at least that is some of the ways it has manifested in Miles.

So during his checkup last week I discussed some things to try with our pediatrician, whom I love because she “gets it.” She has a son just a few months younger than Miles. We talked about some strategies and things to try and you know what, it’s working.

FOTACB1It’s been less than a week but he’s falling asleep within 30 minutes of going to bed (much less than the two to four hours of the past) and sleeping an hour or two later as well. And yesterday Michael couldn’t stop gushing about how the day had gone. How well Miles listened, how happy he seemed and just how pleasant of a day the two had. It’s like he’s a different kid.

He still has his amazing spirit and drive; being rested hasn’t taken that away at all. Instead it’s just made him brighter. It is like he has room to discover and experience more, like his head is a little clearer.

There is no wonder drug or one size fits all method … but once you find it for your particular kiddo you will know. And you will rejoice, just as Michael and I have.

Here’s to hoping junior gets the “sleep makes everyone, even you, feel better and happier” memo!

Crazy, but worth it

I’ve been back for a few weeks but am just now feeling able to talk about the experience — a 350 mile road trip with two kids, BY MYSELF!

They look awfully sweet here, but put them in the back of a car...

They look awfully sweet here, but put them in the back of a car…

What was I thinking?
Obviously I wasn’t thinking about what I would do when I had to go to the bathroom. Or about the two solid hours of three-year-old “playful” shrieks harmonizing with my 8-month-olds cries signaling he was OVER the car ride. I also wasn’t thinking about the “quick stops” that scientifically can take no less than 30 minutes. I never even pondered the hours of “Baby Einstein” or “Thomas the Tank Engine” I would be hearing as opposed to my beloved road trip companion — NPR.
Why would I do such a crazy, insane thing? Really there doesn’t seem to be any kind of a reason that overrides the chaos that was my life during these dark three days. But, alas, there was — family.
That is honestly about the only that would make me do such a crazy, silly thing. And it will make me do it again and again and again.
My mom and her siblings all get together every summer on the family farm in northwestern Illinois. As a family we really only get together one other time — Thanksgiving. And as much as I love all of the fun and tradition that is the McLaughlin family Thanksgiving, there are so many people and so much going on it is hard to spend quality time with each other.

So I’ve done my best to make the summer trek back to the farm when all my aunts have come in. It’s something I’ve done every year since I moved back to Indiana — even when Miles was itty bitty. Actually, the first trip I made was when Miles was just a few weeks old.
Michael stayed back home for a couple reasons. He spends all day every day focused so much on the boys that I wanted him to have a quiet weekend alone. (Plus, the honey do list was getting pretty long …) Also, if he came too we would have had to find someone to take care of the dog and the chickens. It was a quick trip, I reasoned with myself. I’d be fine by myself.
I took off from work that Friday and left around 8 a.m. I made it less than two hours before I had to make my first stop. It was pouring down rain but it had to be done.
My game plan — unbuckle Miles from his car seat (while getting soaked) leaving him in said seat and closing the door. Walk around to Owen’s side of the car, disconnect his infant carrier and lug the 800-pound seat and 15-pound baby inside while Miles climbed through the car out that side.
We dashed (all getting soaked at this point) inside heading straight for the bathroom. But of course, I left the diaper bag in the car. We head back out in the rain, 800-pound seat cutting off the circulation in my right arm as I practically drag the nearly 4-year-old Miles with my left arm. Diaper bag, baby and preschooler in tow we head back in. Pottying and diaper changes are done but now we have to try to navigate out of the storesimultaneously not buying candy and not having a meltdown. But any smart parent knows that this equation isn’t possible with an overtired, cooped up kid. I bought the candy.

Soaked, and finally settled back into the car, I start to pull out of the lot.
“Mom, I want Thomas,” Miles begs of the in-car DVD system.
*Sigh*
I pull back into the spot, put the DVD in and pull out. We get back onto the road and the DVD starts skipping. It won’t play at all.
“OH NO, Thomas,” Miles squeals.
*AHH*
We pull into yet another lot, at this point my shoes were kind of a joke … everything was so wet. I fix the video.
This is EVERY STOP.
We arrived just before 4 p.m. and had an amazing time with my family. We did a lot of fun stuff in the almost two days that we were there.
The return trip was filled with even more chaos and tears (but thankfully no rain). But it was worth every minute.
It is so important to me that my boys know and love my family and that my family know and love my boys. We had many of the same travel woes when we drove three times as far to go to Louisiana, but I had my husband with me. But the boys knowing and loving that family is important too so that is why we will make that trip at least once a year.
I am kind of hoping it is like childbirth — you forget just how bad it is allowing you to do it again!

Kiddie ride coward

By Michael Doyle

Dad quickly regretted the spinning on the turkey tilt o' whirl.

Dad quickly regretted the spinning on the turkey tilt o’ whirl.

Amusement park rides are not my thing.

Whether it’s the heights, the spinning or the knowledge that
5 million people have ridden this thing before and that one faulty part or incorrectly installed bolt could mean sudden, fiery death — a family trip to the amusement park has always been, for me, an exercise in creative excuse-making.
“Well, somebody needs to hold your purse, let me do it” … “No, you go ahead, I really want to get a better look at the landscaping over here” … “No, I didn’t find the bathroom with the longest line on purpose, they’re all really long” … “Oh, does that poor woman need CPR? I’d better go help!”
Unfortunately, Miles has inherited his mother’s devil-may-care attitude about these things, and I can’t get out of all of them.
It occurred to me what a total coward I am on the Eagle Flight ride at Holiday World. Classified by the park as a “mild” ride with a 36-inch height requirement — that’s right, it’s basically a kiddie ride — I spent most of the three minutes or so trying to think about baseball, my mom’s crawfish étouffée or that season three episode of “Knight Rider” — anything, anything at all that kept my attention away from the absolutely terrifying scene unfolding in front of me.

Dad made mom ride the roller coaster. Even the kiddie coaster is a little too much.

Dad made mom ride the roller coaster. Even the kiddie coaster is a little too much.

What little I chose to take in only confirmed my fears as the two daredevils in the eagle in front of Miles and me were twisting their rudder every which way, flipping and turning all over the place at breakneck speed at this death-defying height.
“Can I turn it, Dad?” Miles said. “I want to turn it!”
“No, absolutely not!”
Of course, he grabbed it anyway, sending us into a slightly higher arc than the safe, steady track I had kept us on this whole time. That was almost enough for me to yell out to the ride operator “I want off!”
I somehow managed to avoid anything else for the rest of the day — with one tactful U-turn on the stairs of a water slide that just got a little too tall — until it was time to leave.
Miles wanted to ride the kiddie roller coaster one more time, something I was obviously not keen to do. Fortunately, on the way there, we passed the raging rapids ride — we had already gone on this four times that day — and that did not escape young Miles’ notice.

“Oh dad, I like this one! Can we do it again?”

Yes! There was hope.

“Sure, we can go on the raft again, but your mom’s waiting for us. We can only do one ride — raft or roller coaster. You pick.”
“Raft!!” he said.
Relief washed over me in a wave, no less tangible than the buckets of water that would soon be deposited on top of us as we traversed those rapids one more time. Did I mind getting wet all over again? Not one tiny bit.
So this trip was not exactly a dazzling display of courage on my part. It’s OK, I can live with that — because despite my cowardice, we actually did have fun. I might even look forward to going back next year.
Maybe by then, I’ll be ready for one of the big kid rides.

The only stationary spot on the merry-go-round is what the Doyle boys chose.

The only stationary spot on the merry-go-round is what the Doyle boys chose.

Loving my ‘spirited’ kid

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, “terrible twos” is a misnomer. My amazing and strong-willed little guy has really struggled with his threes — a number we are NEARLY through. But the challenging behavior may not be on its way out just because he turns 4. I don’t think it is that magical.
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It’s not as if my kiddo is out slashing tires, knocking entire rows of spaghetti sauce off grocery aisles or leaving Sharpie graffiti on our living room wall. He’s acting and behaving like many 3-year-old little boys I’m sure.

I’ve just never tried to corral a 3-year-old full-time before. I’ve never been face to face with what — especially at 10:30 p.m. after a day of battles — feels like a tiny tyrant taking over my world. This has been the first time for me to navigate these pint-size challenges (yet seemingly coming from the most stubborn 6-foot-4 full-grown dude).

So yes, it’s felt pretty rough at times. I’ve cried my fair share of frustrated tears and tossed and turned wondering if things will ever feel peaceful again.

And while at first I had an “oh my goodness, I’m the first one EVER to deal with a kid THIS stubborn” kind of an attitude I quickly realized that my situation is far from unique. I often asked my mom, a clinical social worker who knows ALL OF THE STUFF, “Is this normal? Should I be worried? Do we need to be seeing someone?” She’d laugh and say, “He’s 3!”

He’s like other children who are strong-willed and “spirited” — that’s the term I found used most often when turning to the internet for some solutions and support. Let’s be real, spirited is the politically correct term for difficult or challenging. These kids are described as “more sensitive, more intense, more persistent, more perceptive and slower to transition.”

An explanation often given is that these spirited kids feel their emotions so strongly and are looking for some control. Power struggles are a big thing in our house. Because — and this fact will not come as a surprise to anyone who knew me even very briefly as a child — I was a spirited child myself I have grown into a “spirited” adult. Yep, I’m difficult. I’m strong-willed. I’m Stubborn (that capital “S” is not a typo.)

Often the traits that are seen as difficult or challenging for kids are seen as positive for adults and help lead them to success. I’d like to think they are good for something.

Back to the internet … I’ve read a lot about strategies to help. And one thing I saw over and over again was the power of “Yes!”

So I gave it a shot.

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Saturday was our day (well realistically it was a late morning and afternoon) of “Yes!” I make a concerted effort to spend special one-on-one time with Miles leaving his now nearly 9-month-old brother at home with dad. And Michael does the same with him.
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Just the two of us went to the Franklin Street Bazaar. He chose the path we took to look at the vendors. He chose what vegetables we bought (lots of tomatoes of course) and which of the particular vegetable. Miles also asked for cookies and muffins. Yes and yes.

It was the day of Yes! after all. He wanted to follow the superheros that were at the West Branch of the library for an event. So we did. He wanted to make his own super hero mask. We did. He wanted to mix up all of his paint creating a lot of gray and brown. I didn’t bat an eye.

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We left the library with our mask in tow after hugging and visiting with the superheroes and went back out to the market area and walked by a GIANT mud puddle. What kid wouldn’t go crazy for a puddle.

“Momma, can I?”

“Yes!”

For about 20 minutes I stood by as Miles jumped and jumped and jumped. He ran and jumped. He jumped in place. He hopped. He skipped. He did nearly everything but cartwheels through that puddle. The puddle was near the walkway through the center of the green space at the market but wasn’t too heavily traveled. But when someone neared he would stop. That became a game in and of itself.

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“OK, pause!” I’d shout to a gleeful Miles. He’d freeze until the people walked by and the game resumed.
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I got some giant smiles and positive comments. One woman even joined in grabbing Miles’ hand so they could jump in together. I also got a few sneers. I’m sure a few other parents weren’t too pleased with me that I was letting my heathen child jump in the puddle while their kid wasn’t allowed. Sorry about that!

“Momma, will you jump too?”

“Yes!”

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For another 15 minutes we jumped in that puddle together until all the water was nearly jumped out. We were soaked from our toes to mid-back, our shoes and shins covered in mud and grass. But we laughed so much.

We eventually had to return to the real world, a world that has to have a few “No’s” in it. There was lunch to be eaten and naps to be had. And of course, a few battles, tantrums and tears (from both of us.) But for those hours it was pretty darn blissful.

Realistically it can’t be a world of Yes. But I refuse to “break his will.” It will not happen. We are working on finding a balance. But I want him to be courageous, strong in his opinions and values and have passionate emotions.

We’ll get there. We’ll figure out that balance. But in the meantime … it’s tough.

No one can rain on my parade

A couple of times a week I throw myself a parade in my own head, seriously. It’s not that I don’t get praise from my husband or other friends and family, but life is so challenging that sometimes I feel like I’ve earned it — that little brain parade.

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Being a working mom is not easy. I’m blessed beyond measure that I have a supportive husband who will pick up nearly any of the traditional “mom” pieces that are dropped in the wake of my insane overscheduled life. But even with that, it can be rough.

So when I’m able to work a nine-hour day, come home, nurse my son and get a meal — from scratch mind you — on the table for my family of four before 6:30 p.m., I think I’ve earned a parade!

I know, I know — it’s not very realistic for me to expect the marching band to be on standby for when I pull one of those stellar, magical, all the pieces fell into place nights off. Instead of expecting tractors, waving fair queens and a steady drum beat in my living room, I envision them in my head. I see the flags spinning in the air, the tinsel hanging from the float dragging on the concrete and the candy flying through the air.

“Momma, what’s wrong?” Miles asks as we are sitting at the dinner table, and I’m zoned out for my brief parade bliss.

“Oh, nothing honey,” I say while helping Owen grasp another handful of the avocado he’s eating, or more realistically smearing all over every surface within reach. “I’m just thinking about something.”

I smile as the horses trot by (the unofficial end to every parade, because, well you know why.)

Another recent parade happened when I took both boys to church — by MYSELF — last week. I have this mom of two thing down pat when I’m in my own territory — I’m a pro on my own turf. But every time I go anywhere, even just the grocery store, with both of them by myself, I feel like I’ve earned a parade. Running into the gas station to grab a Diet Coke with both in tow — that’s just a little mini parade, probably just a few kids on bikes.

Going into the grocery store to get milk and eggs, that parade is a little bigger because I probably had to wrestle away a loaf of bread from the baby at least a few times and keep Miles from dropping the eggs as he “helped me” put the items on the conveyor belt. The store to get chicken feed, that’s a little more challenging because we are now balancing the baby, a 50-plus pound bag of food and a little boy who wants nothing more than to touch ALL of the baby chicks in the store. I do have the added bonus of the popcorn bribery there, though.

Because, cute kids

But taking both boys to church, alone, that’s right up there with the Rose Bowl Parade, it’s not quite Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade; but it’s still quite the feat — at least it is in my head.

At church you have to employ a whole new set of mom skills because quiet is of the essence. And quiet for an energetic nearly 4-year-old and almost 8-month-old is not always the easiest of tasks. Most Sundays we have a man-on-man defense approach, but sometimes the assigned player (one of our children) changes. So this two-on-one stuff was tricky. You know what though, I did it. There were zero outbursts, just a few non-whispering moments, some redecorating of the pew and a few little excited baby shouts. I didn’t get any cross looks from the pastor or fellow congregants. So on my drive home from church — yep, you guessed it — I was envisioning a big old parade, thrown just in my honor.

I’m sure many of you are reading this thinking, “Hurmph, parade for taking two kids to church? I’ve brought my quintuplets and pet lion to the pope’s inauguration. And that was just another Tuesday!”

My response, “You are amazing!” But you know what, I also think you are amazing if you are a mom of one and you take your kid to church and he screams his fool head off. Because I’ve been there (not at church, thankfully, but at plenty of grocery stores!)
Being a mom (and dad!) is hard work. Being a parent while working, staying at home or as an astronaut — all of it is a great accomplishment.

So I say we all deserve parades. If we are doing our best to keep our kids healthy, happy and safe, we should be dusting off the baton and whistle and should start leading some parades.