Everywhere Babies

By Lisa Cucinotta

Reading to my kids is one of my favorite activities. I have loved it so much over the past six years of parenting that I recently started writing books for kids. Writing children’s books has made me think a lot more about what I love to read the kids. I’ve started noticing nuances about books like which have authors who also illustrate (I’m not all illustrator but admire those like Mo Willems who do both), whether the books rhyme or not, how long they are, etc. Most agents don’t accept rhyming books anymore (no idea why) but I’ve found that the vast majority of the books we own for littler kids all rhyme. I find it very soothing, personally. I also never realized how short many of the “longer” picture books Julia and I read together are, like Fancy Nancy or Pinkalicious. They have fewer words than you might think (418 and 680 respectively).

I’ve also begun to think about who writes the books the kids love.  There are very few books out of the hundreds that Julia and Luca own that I have paid attention to who the author is, surprisingly. Maybe other parents are more in tune with this, but its not something I think about much unless the books are part of a series and I want to buy more of them.  And even then I tend to think more about the series itself (like the ones I mentioned above) than I do about the author.

However I recently had a really special experience with Julia that made me want to reach out to the author of my favorite. When Julia was born my sister gave me a selection of books that were special to her and her kids. One of them was Everywhere Babies by Susan Meyers, illustrated by Marla Frazee. Reading it to Julia and Luca makes me happy.  It’s simple and sweet, and reminds me of both the commonalities of raising babies and their differences.

Each page starts with “Everyday, everywhere babies are….” and then goes into a different topic and all the different ways those topics are experienced.  Like “Every day, everywhere babies are fed – by bottle, by breast, with cups and with spoons, with milk and then cereal, carrots and prunes…” I love that a book for little kids says the word “breast” in it like its no big deal (because it’s not!) and also that they mention both breast and bottle feeding as being normal options (because they are!).

But back to my special experience with Julia. She really mastered reading in first grade, going from a struggling beginning reader to one that reads with enthusiasm and can infuse emotion into her storytelling.  It reminds me of myself actually – I was always really good at reading out loud, probably because I had a mother who was a children’s librarian.  I love seeing that quality in her because picking it up was such a struggle for her, especially as the youngest kid in her class.

On nights when I am home to put Julia to bed, she reads me a book and then I read her one.  She usually chooses Elephant and Piggy books (by the great Mo Willems, mentioned earlier) or a book like If You Give a Pig a Pancake. The other night, I think maybe I’d had a challenging day and she knew that, because she smiled big at me and told me she had a surprise and whipped out Everywhere Babies to read to me. She has outgrown interest in most baby and toddler books but she still keeps this one in her room.

She read it and I had a full circle mom experience. There were tears in my eyes as I watched my beautiful big girl read me this book like a champ.  I decided I had to write to the author and tell her. My hope is that someday parents and children will have special experiences with my books, and I would want to know that. So I found Susan’s website, which contained her email address along with the promise that if you write her she’ll write you back.  I figured it was worth a shot.

To my great surprise, Susan wrote me back the very next day.  I was totally fan-girling out over her response, which was amazing.  Here it is below, shared with her permission:

“Dear Lisa,

Thank you so much for writing to me, and especially for sharing the story of how Julia read Everywhere Babies to you.  That brought tears to my eyes, too. 
You know writing is such a strange experience.  You work hard to make your book as good as you can (and in the case of a picture book the illustrator works hard, too). Then you send it out in the world and suddenly it no longer belongs just to you. It belongs to those who read it. You and your children are the other side of the equation and hearing from you…  Well, it certainly made my day and also inspired me to get back to my desk and finish the book I’m working on now.
So, again, thank you for writing.  Give Julia and Luca a hug for me!
All best,
Susan”

 

I’d love to hear from you on what books are your favorites to read with your kids! Feel free to respond to me here, on Facebook if we’re friends and now on Twitter where I am now writing @lisacucinotta

The Second Time Around

by Lisa Cucinotta

As a first time parent, I was terrified of everything. I think so much of that had to do with not knowing what to expect.  Not knowing how things worked, if I was doing it right, what was “normal” for each stage and what would come next.  I am an anxious person by nature so this experience was amplified for me more than it might be for some.  Things like Julia waking up in the middle of the night as a toddler seemed extra stressful because I didn’t feel like I had control of when and how they would stop. Was I creating bad habits if I went in there too often? Why was she crying when we had made it so well through sleep training years ago? I clung to my Baby 411 and Toddler 411 books like life rafts, and asked my mother and sister and pediatrician all sorts of ridiculous questions.

I struggled with PPD and with motherhood in general (read most of my blog posts and you’ll get the picture). It wasn’t until Julia was about two that I wasn’t even ready to accept that I might be willing to have a second kid.  I worried about having a traumatic birth again.  I worried about having PPD again.  I worried about the brain fog, the sleeplessness, basically everything. Did I mention I have anxiety problems?

Then I had a second baby. SO DIFFERENT.  Like, epic level of different. In the hospital with Julia, we were separated the first day (she in the NICU, me on magnesium for the pre-eclampsia). With Luca, I got skin to skin right away, and got to snuggle him tons and keep him in my room. With Julia, they wouldn’t let me nurse her after she was born because I needed medical intervention. With Luca I got to nurse. With Julia, coming off the magnesium was brutal, and I had such intense brain fog I couldn’t think straight. With Luca, I waited and waited for the dizzy confusion and it never happened.  Is this what people got to have the first time that didn’t have medical issues for mom and baby? I will never know, but I suspect that even if they did have experiences more like mine with Luca than Julia they still must have been scared shitless because it was their first.

Getting home with Luca, I was concerned how I would manage both kids. But there was so much more that I was confident in that it seemed like an obstacle I could manage. I knew how my breast pump worked and had the hands free pumping bra ready to go. I could diaper like a champ. I knew to set a routine for getting the baby to sleep early, and to drape a paper towel over Luca’s head so I could eat dinner while nursing (I am classy AF).

My kids are different genders so there have been certain adjustments, like dealing with boy parts – turns out it actually makes diaper changing easier in some ways – like no worry about poop going up the other chute. I mean yeah, I got peed on a few times, but we figure that out pretty quick.  Luca is also definitely a lot more aggressive and wild than Julia, especially as a toddler.  When she first got her big girl bed, it never even occurred to her that she could get out of it or open the door to her room for like a year.  Luca figured that out night one.  She never turned her toys into weapons, or kicked us when we tried to change her diaper. She didn’t roar at strangers. She didn’t jump off of everything she possibly could with no fear.

But for the most part, genuinely things are pretty much parallel within reason.  I know now how old a kid needs to be to process certain information, and what kind of discipline is generally most effective. I know that at some meals he won’t eat anything and at others he’ll chow down three hot dogs and that this isn’t something to be concerned about. I don’t worry when he wakes up at night crying that this will be a thing that happens forever.

I do miss being able to tag out. The days where Brian could watch the baby for an hour while I napped don’t work as well when there are two and they have different things they need and different places to be etc.  But we still split up sometimes with one kid each and it feels so relaxing, which makes me laugh because there were plenty of times where being alone with Julia made me feel nervous or stressed.  But now she is older and my shopping buddy and my crafting buddy and dance partner and we have the best time when we’re together just the two of us.  Getting solo time with mom seems to make her behave much better.

On the downside, the two together often means chaos. When the two of them fight I want to run out of the room and hide or scream because it frustrates me so much.  But then I see them hold hands or play together or snuggle up and I forget that Julia kicked Luca hard enough that his head smacked in the wall, or that Luca jumped on Julia and bruised her (does this happen if you have two girls, by the way? I don’t remember if my sister and I were violent with each other much.)

Some people say that two is more than twice as hard as one.  I think if you are a stay at home parent that might be true, but as a working mom I honestly haven’t felt that way too much.  I know this sounds strange, but I always felt a little like something was missing when we just had Julia.  These two adults with this tiny person, it felt like an uneven balance.  I feel much more like a family with two.  Maybe that’s because I grew up with a sibling, but either way, that feeling of satisfaction helps me enjoy the experience more.  But two is definitely my limit.  More power to those folks who have three or four or more, but I am good with my little set.  I think you need to know your limits. But if you’ve got one and you’re on the fence, I say go for it. The second time around brought a great sense of redemption for me, along with a greater sense of family.

 

Parenting while calm

By Lisa Cucinotta

I have never believed that yelling at your kids is particularly effective or necessary, except in extreme circumstances, like danger. That being said, I haven’t exactly practiced said parenting philosophy regularly. The kind of parent I aspire to be and the kind of parent I’ve been most days the last six + years line up only about 50% or so. I imagine this is pretty common among parents and so I’m guessing there’s been yelling at your house too, at least the exasperated kind.

Lately, since I’ve been practicing parenting with P.E.A.C.E. I’ve noticed 2 things: The first is that I am not being as hard on myself for my perceived parenting flaws.  The second is that living with P.E.A.C.E. has made me a much calmer, happier person and as a bi-product, I am able to practice calmer parenting with much less yelling (we’re not talking a full state of zen parenting bliss, but I definitely feel we’re making progress over here).

I am very open on this blog about my challenges embracing parenting and my anxiety problems, which pre-dated having kids. It made for quite a cocktail when you mixed self-pity, generalized anxiety disorder, lack of autonomy, lack of sleep (at least in the early years) and parenting.

Self-pity was a deep driver of my anxiety before I had kids, and one of the ways I managed those things was trying to exert control over my environment.  There’s nothing like parenting small children to make you feel completely out of control.  You can not predict them, nor can you always manage their endless stream of needs and wants and interruptions and crazy ideas and dirty hands and spilled milk, and…. wait hold on, I just fell down a rabbit hole there for a second.

But for every time they get peanut butter on your shirt right before they leave for work there is a moment where your daughter calls a thermos a “thermostat” or announces she needs a family hug, or your son does a booty dance to Rihanna in his diaper or requests extra hugs at bedtime.  I want to make sure you know this, and know that I know it too, that a safe space to complain about parenting absolutely needs to have a place to also sing its praises. Being someone’s mom or dad is an awesome honor and privilege, and when we lose sight of that, like I have hundreds of times, we are doing a disservice to ourselves and to our kids.

This is why a big part of P.E.A.C.E. is the “bank of proof”. The bank is where you store your positive experiences – both parenting successes and moments of pure enjoyment with the kids.  It’s part of the Embrace stage, (the second E) where you embrace the outcomes, no matter how small the win.  And it’s crucial to continually working through the first E, Examine, where you are able to draw on the bank when you feel yourself getting worked up.  Both Es can save you a lot of yelling.

So, back to this new calmer parenting thing I am working on (modestly) mastering. How does it work? It’s something that honestly needs a lot of practice, patience and a good deal of self-control and doesn’t that just sound easy (ha).  I spoke in my last post about how practicing P.E.A.C.E. is like starting a weight lifting practice and I really mean it.  Not just because you start small and build (a literal analogy) but also because if you stop practicing it regularly you will have less strength to continue it.

My #1 tip for you to start with is to build up your flexibility. You have to challenge yourself to say yes more often, and to make sure when you say no you have a real reason, and give it to your kids. I tend to be a rigid parent, and once I say something, I have a tendency to refuse to back down. What I have been doing lately is questioning my rules, especially because some of them genuinely make no sense to anyone but me.

Here’s an example: I have stopped refusing to read certain books to Julia before bed time based on how close it was to 7pm. I discovered that my brain was so focused on having the reading end within a few minutes 7pm because that is her bed time. And I had secret anxiety I wasn’t even fully consciously aware of that Brian would be upset with me if I came down too much later than 7 because he was timing dinner with her bedtime.  Guess what happened recently when I stopped caring as much about nailing bedtime to the minute? Pretty much nothing bad.  Julia and I stopped arguing about books. I stopped feeling tense while I was reading them. Brian never seemed bothered I came down later and on the “latest” days I was still downstairs by 7:15.  Listen, I do believe routines are important for kids, and I’m a little OCD, so my flexibility isn’t going to mean Julia can just go to bed whenever, but giving a little has resulted in getting a lot.

It turns out there are a ton of these rolling around in my brain and I am trying to knock them down one at a time. I’m not always successful – today I managed not to yell when I was frustrated with Julia while we were out shopping, but I did say a few things that in retrospect I wish I hadn’t, even if I said them calmly.  On the bright side I didn’t beat myself up for it after, Julia seemed ok with what I said, and we had still had fun shopping, so that can all go in the bank.

Your yelling or impatience or frustration might (or likely does) come from a totally different place than mine. A fifteen minute adjustment to bedtime might be laughable to someone who doesn’t stress about routines.  But I am sure you aspire to be a calmer mom too.  So try it out.  Let me know how it goes!

Parenting with P.E.A.C.E.

By Lisa Cucinotta

I started this blog because I wanted to expose the truth about the challenges of parenting. I’ve talked about the importance of honesty in revealing the tough parts so that we don’t feel so alone. I’ve addressed postpartum depression, losing a pregnancy,  and the (not so) magic of babies among other topics. But something that I haven’t tackled much is specifics for how we can make it better.  Mostly this is because I felt unqualified to give parenting advice, since I have struggled with it quite a bit (spoiler alert: so do most people).

Recently I have been going through a period of major inspiration in my life.  I’ve been more productive and more positive than I have been in years. The happiness and calm that has been coursing through me has been such a contrast to the ball of anxiety and gloom I was from mid 2016 to mid 2017 (aka “the dark period”).  I have noticed that my parenting methods have improved pretty dramatically since I have become more peaceful and positive.  I’ve long believed, and seen the proof, that yelling doesn’t actually help the situation, but my frayed nerves prevented me from effectively practicing that on a regular basis before.

I have been working recently on a self-help and self-care philosophy that I’ve dubbed P.E.A.C.E. (gotta love a good acryonym!).  While I had originally built it as a method for helping myself and others with anxiety, I have discovered it has a number of other practical applications, including work issues like coping with stress, identifying priorities and managing people.  But it is also super good for parenting.

P.E.A.C.E. is simple.  It’s five steps that you run through during the course of a situation.  However, you can also access each of the steps independently depending on what you need at the time.

P: Prepare
E: Examine
A: Accept
C: Calm
E: Embrace

Here’s an example of parenting with P.E.A.C.E. in action:

You are going out to a nice dinner with your husband and toddler and another family tonight. You’ve had mixed results taking her out; sometimes she behaves great, sometimes she is a disaster, so you’re a bit nervous/stressed about how it will go.

Prepare: This is your pre-game. What worked during those successful dinners and what didn’t at the rough ones? Based on that you can prepare for a better outcome: Let’s go at 6 instead of 7 so she will be less tired. We’ll bring a few toys and books.  We’ll have cheerios to feed her before the food comes.

Examine: It’s game time. You’re in the restaurant. She starts to cry. You give her the books and she throws them. You offer her cheerios and she isn’t eating them.  You begin to get impatient and stressed. What if the restaurant throws you out? What if you can never go out to eat with her until she is a teenager? What if your friends think your a bad mom because their kids are sitting so nicely.

This spiral and frustration is what usually leads to the impulsive behavior – the yelling, the anxiety, the obsessive thoughts.  It’s time to examine what is really happening. Take a beat. Clear your mind of the worries and focus on reality.  I suggest that you begin to keep what I call the “bank of proof”.  This can be something that just lives in your head, or if you need it, something you physically write down, ideally on your phone so that you can access it anywhere.  Your bank of proof is a reminder of your “wins”.  Say to yourself: we’ve gone out to dinner 6 times in the last year and never been thrown out, no matter how she behaved. People are nice because they understand kids aren’t always perfect. You’ve had luck in the past calming her down by playing games with her – why don’t you try that?

Accept: You are now at the solution phase. It is what it is so let’s deal with it. She is crying. It’s not the end of the world. She will stop at some point. Try that game you remember working in the past. The one where you have to guess animals by the sound they make. Hey, that seems to be working.  Now let’s get some bread and butter over here and fill her up. Maybe she’s hangry.  If all else fails, you can always take her outside for a quick walk, or (last resort) let her play with your phone.

Calm: Do an emotional gut check. Now that you’re not zoomed in on your fears or anger, it’s a lot easier to process what is happening.  You want to enjoy the rest of dinner, and not feel worried she will do it again (but if she does it again, just keep going through E and A), or make a rash decision to leave.  You’ve got this, girl! You can choose to enjoy yourself tonight. There is this great quote from Mary Engelbreit that has always stuck with me “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you feel about it.” IT IS NOT EASY TO DO.  But it is SO WORTH IT to work on this.

Embrace: You are in the car on the way home from dinner.  You made it! The rest of the dinner turned out ok.  Your toddler wasn’t always happy, but she did eat some of her pasta, and you and your husband had a much needed glass of wine, and no one in the restaurant gave you evil looks, and now she is sleeping in the car seat like a little angel and you survived.  You can add this to your bank of proof. Build up your wins, and draw on them whenever you need.  Be proud of yourself.  You can embrace even the more shitty situations because there is always a redemption point in there somewhere.

I truly believe P.E.A.C.E. can provide a true path to changing your life as a parent.  I just practiced it on a week-long vacation with the kids and my husband in the Dominican Republic and it was amazing. I focused before the trip on not being apprehensive and obsessive or worrying about bad outcomes, which is something I often do before traveling.  I was able to go into the trip more calmly and parent with more enjoyment.  I very rarely get to spend that amount of concentrated time with my kids because I am a working mom, and I thought I would feel exhausted but I came home feeling peaceful and refreshed.  I am not saying the trip was all roses and sunshine because let’s be honest, we were dealing with a 3 and 6 year old here (I will write a post about vacation soon, because I highly recommend the resort!) But there was so much magic, so much fun, and so much happiness.  Were the kids behaving any better or worse than usual? I don’t think so.  But I did, and it made all the difference.

Think of this method like lifting weights. Day one you aren’t going to pick up the biggest barbells and hoist them over your head.  But with continued practice, you can build your strength and accomplish bigger goals. I believe you can find a path to being a calmer and more rational parent and be able to enjoy your kids and your life more!

Note: I will be writing a lot more about P.E.A.C.E. in the future and working on it’s various applications.  If you are interested in learning more about it, please reach out.  I’m looking for beta testers to give feedback on how to distill the idea with the most simplicity and also what specific tactics lead to the best outcomes! 

The (not so) magic of babies

By Lisa Cucinotta

I was at a client meeting today and overheard a conversation between a mom that just returned from maternity leave and an expecting father.

“Oh, it’s just magical.  You’re going to love it,” she raved.

Being the nosy nancy I am, I of course butted in.  “Are you referring to having a newborn?” I asked her.

“Yes, it’s just so wonderful,” she gushed, smiling radiantly. Say what?

Listen, I had postpartum depression with Julia, and that’s not everyone’s experience so yeah, I am a bit jaded.  Having Luca was a fabulous course correction, and I genuinely enjoyed a lot of my time with him, but let’s be real here.

Being a first time mom to a newborn is an experience that can be described as magical.  But not without also caveating that it’s also many other things like terrifying and exhausting.

Moms (and dads): If you are selling the lie, you’re not just lying to yourself, you are setting our parenting culture up for failure.  Dramatic of me to say? Maybe.  But I literally can not count on two hands the number of women who told me that I was one of the ONLY people that warned them that those early weeks were going to at times, between gazes of love and wonder and unicorns prancing also be demoralizing, mournful, emotional, foggy, bloody (yes, bloody) and confusing.

People will make comments about how you won’t get sleep.  They’ll make jokes about it.  But they won’t tell you that the sleeplessness will often be accompanied by unending screams that simultaneously break your heart, hurt your ears, and feel like a condemnation of you and your failure to parent correctly.  Because surely other moms can make their babies stop crying (spoiler alert: bag of nopes there).

You might hear in passing about colic.  But you won’t be given the details about how colic is defined by multiple days of THREE PLUS HOURS IN A ROW of crying.  That shit is hard.  I did not have a colicky baby, but I remember even just average crying with my daughter and how hard it was.

Maybe, thanks to a few parenting memes going around FB, you have somehow heard about the hospital underpants.  It is essentially an underwear sized maxi pad.  Because if you have a vaginal birth you will BLEED.  I was sent home from the hospital told not to be worried about clots unless they were LARGER THAN A TENNIS BALL.  I’m not sure I’d even be able to worry at that point because I would have passed out from fright.

Let’s just take a moment to talk about breast pumps.  Do you know I did it for three months before I found out about hands free pumping bras?  I held those damn flange things against my boobs multiple times a day when I could have just been hanging out, still a cow but with hands free.  And surely no one told you that you actually have to get the right sized flanges for your nipples.  It’s not a one size fits all situation.  And how weird it is to be LITERALLY milked.  I never even made enough milk with Julia without supplementing with formula.  For the first month, my doctor had me nurse Julia, then pump right after – including middle of the night feedings.  Do you know how much it sucked to not only nurse, then pump, but then have to wash fucking pump parts in the middle of the night.  I remember more than once crying in the bathroom at three in the morning as I washed and sanitized pumping supplies thinking that this will never end.  Magical I tell you.  Like prancing unicorns of joy.

I could make you a list more numerous than the number of pee and poop diapers you will change in those early months of other “magical” moments.  Projectile poos, the fear of touching your baby’s umbilical cord before it falls off, the porn star rocks that your boobs will be when your milk comes in, reflux, baby acne, meconium. Trimming miniscule baby fingernails (without making them bleed) so they don’t scratch themselves up like Edward Scissorhands.

I named this blog Truth in Parenting for a reason ya’all.  Only in sharing the truth with each other will we be able to know that parenting is two sides of a coin.  In truth, we don’t have to feel shame or disappointment that our experience isn’t like others, because there’s a really good chance that it is – both good and bad.

 

 

When life gets in the way

By Lisa Cucinotta

Here it is, the cliche blog post about how I’ve been too busy to write a blog post.  That’s not entirely true.  A person can always find time for anything that is a priority for them.  That’s why I have dramatically increased my time spent reading this year, and have gotten like three massages, yet I haven’t been able to “find time” for exercise since I was pregnant with Luca, ha.

One of the things I’ve been busy doing is parenting related, tangentially I suppose. I’ve written a children’s book.  It feels funny to write that down as it makes it seem more real.  But it’s pretty real at this point. I have written a kid’s book and am in the final process of editing it (I’m on draft 24 already) and am almost ready to start the query process to submit it to agents.

I wrote a kid’s book because I love to write, I love kid’s books, and I had something I really wanted to write about.  I have mentioned on this blog openly about having anxiety issues since I was a child.  As an adult, I’ve come to understand that my coping mechanisms for this anxiety were not tied enough to self-soothing, and relied a lot more on other people to fix things for me.  The intention with this book is to help little kids with anxiety think about ways they can help themselves.  The book is currently titled “Lulu Fox and the Fix-It Box” and I am really excited about its potential.

Imagine if Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes (I love all his books!) or The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn had a more kid driven solution than one supplied by a parent or adult. The first day of school can be scary, especially for an anxious kid who’s afraid of everything.  Thankfully Lulu Fox comes up with an idea – she can make a “Fix It” box to lock her fears away. Lulu wears the key to the box as a necklace to help remind her to be brave at school. The reader gets a front row seat as Lulu faces challenges that will test that bravery.

I have done a ton of research on the process of finding an agent, and it is supposed to be quite hard.  Even if you get an agent they then need to try and sell to a publisher.  So while I am hopeful that people will love Lulu as much as I do, it might take quite a bit of time before it sees the light of day as a book.  If I am unable to secure an agent I will go the self-publishing route, but that costs money vs. makes money (at least in the short to medium term) so fingers crossed that I find one!!

I am already working on my second book, this one about a little boy on the autism spectrum who loves music.  I’ve been having early versions read by those with experience with autism (either teachers or parents) to make sure I am capturing things accurately.

If you are interested in being a beta reader of either book, let me know.  Or if you are a fellow writer and looking to trade manuscripts, I’ve been having a lot of fun doing that with people all over the world, so let me know!  And please be patient, I have more mom stories in me to share with this blog, I am just on a slightly diverted path right now.

 

Some day I’ll sleep in

By Lisa Cucinotta

“He needs a back-up alarm” my hair stylist told me, after complaining that the guy who was supposed to open the salon that morning had overslept.  “You know, I always have my phone alarm, and then a back-up, like an alarm clock or my boyfriend’s phone” she said.  “Especially in the winter, when it’s dark and you’re so snuggly, and you just can’t get yourself out of bed, you know?”

I did know, once upon a time.  I remember those days.  In fact, I probably slept more than most people.  I spent my early twenties doing freelance jobs and working for myself, which meant a lot of flexibility in my sleep schedule.  I could sleep some days until noon.  When I was depressed, on my days off I’d sometimes sleep all day, waking up just to go to the bathroom and eat.

But when you have children, sleep is something you dream about… and get woken up from. I suspect I’m luckier than many because currently both my children sleep through the night in their own rooms.  I don’t have enough hands to count the number of friends I have who either intentionally, accidentally, or by sheer exhaustion end up co-sleeping with their kids at least some of the time.  Brian and I decided in our earliest parenting days that we were going to set boundaries on the co-sleeping, so other than when they slept in bassinets with us as babies we’ve never done it.

Neither Julia or Luca slept more than three to four hours at a time until they were about five months old, probably a product of them both being such skinny babies. But both became pretty good sleepers after some basic sleep training.  We certainly had some rough times with Julia between ages 2-4, nothing unusual, just the basic stuff like nightmares.  I suspect we’ll go through it again with Luca as he gets older.  He’s still in a crib at two and a half, but based on his personality I suspect we’ll have trouble keeping him in his big boy bed once he gets one.  So I’ve got that to look forward to.

Both our children’s optimal bedtimes are quite early, which I’ve mentioned before – 6:15 or so for Luca and 7pm for Julia.  So we have whole evenings to ourselves to eat dinner, watch tv, catch up on work etc.  But the trade off is that we got woken up EVERY SINGLE DAY at 6am.  Now, as I’ve also mentioned before, this works for us 5 days a week, because that’s around when we wake up for work anyway.  But getting up at 6 am on weekends is kind of brutal.  At this point, it doesn’t make me too tired anymore, because my body has adjusted.  In fact, it came in handy when Brian and I went to Universal studios by ourselves this fall because we had no trouble getting up for early admission.  But our trip to the Dominican Republic last year where we fantasized about sleeping late – that one was a damn shame to wake up every day by seven.

The early wake up is a double edged sword.  I’ve done more by 8:00 in the morning than many childless people do in a full weekend day.  Even with lounging in bed with the kids for early morning TV watching, by about 8:30 on a Sunday we have usually cooked and eaten breakfast, emptied the dishwasher, tidied up the first floor, looked up something or other on the internet, broken up at least one fight, and changed a few diapers.  The trade off is that there is so many more hours in the day during which we need to entertain the kids.  Bored children are no fun.  If I was a perfect Pinterest mom I’m sure I’d have long lists of craft projects and inventive games and would love every minute of every hour of the time I spent with them.  But sometimes mom just wants a nap.

Brian and I have this fantasy for the future.  Some of it revolves around sleeping later once they kids are able to take care of themselves when they get up.  But our particular favorite one is for when the kids are teenagers who will inevitably sleep super late on the weekends.  We’ve decided at least once we’re going to throw open their door as loudly as possible, run into their room, jump into their bed full force and immediately demand that they get us breakfast and put the tv on for us.  There’s even been talk of banging pots and pans.  But we’ll decide when we get there, since I suspect we’ve got miles to go before we sleep.

The memory bank

By Lisa Cucinotta

Last night we hung out with two families from our block, and between us there were six kids ranging in age from six (Julia) to eight months (our neighbor’s son Henry, who is so cute he almost makes me want to have another one…. for five minutes…. because this shop is CLOSED for business).  The house was chaos, but the happy kind, with shrieks due to fun vs. fights and tantrums.

At one point the three oldest kids (ages 4-6) were playing hide and seek.  Charlie, the ringer, (since he lived there and knew all the best spots) hid behind the drapes in the dining room where the adults were hanging out finishing our dinner.  He was pretty well concealed, but at one point the kids were practically on top of him and yet couldn’t find him.  We were trying to give them clues, directing them with “warmer” and “colder” but they just weren’t getting it even though at one point I swear they were looking straight at him behind the gauzy curtain.  When he finally popped out, peals of laughter exploded not just from the kids but from all the adults in the room.

After we stopped laughing, I looked at everyone I said “Let’s put this one in the memory bank”.  Whether you realize it or not, I believe every parent keeps a memory bank.  Having small children is hard, like, next level hard.  Like, “how does anyone do this?” hard.  There are so many moments where you just want to scream, or rip your hair out, or hide in a bathroom or take five minutes to breathe or shower or take a catnap.  So you open up a memory bank account and deposit every damn thing in it you can that is not the shitty stuff.  This whole night for me goes in the memory bank.  Hanging out with people we enjoy who have great kids, sharing kid book recommendations, eating pizza and homemade cookies and apple crumble and feeling relaxed (or at least I did, and I am not always relaxed at these things).

I’ve got lots of memories that I keep in my bank. The first time Julia said her name, and told us it was “Julcat”. Taking naps with sweaty baby Luca’s face pressed against my face. Watching Julia greet the princesses at Disney World with the expectation they’d know her to. Luca saying “You got this for me?” in his deep little baby voice, with a mixture of wonder and excitement, every time we give him something.  A mom telling me that Julia waited for her son by the door at kindergarten every day for the first few weeks because she knew he was scared to go in.

I also have a category for posthumously added memories.  Those are ones that felt really struggle bus while they were happening but have a sweetness to the memory that creates nostalgia. One is Julia insisting we “dance up” – she loved dancing so much at two that we would try to dance with her while sitting on the floor because we would get tired and she just wouldn’t have it so she’d insist we stand.  We’d be exhausted, wearing pink cowboy hats and tutus and drag ourselves off the floor to try to jam out to our tenth Katy Perry song in a row to keep our tiny tyrant happy.  Another one, as insane as it is for me to believe now, is that I am able to feel nostalgia for moments I spent nursing.  I nursed Julia for six months, Luca for four, and I was very relieved to stop.  I felt like a cow, it was weird to feel like my body didn’t belong to me, and I leaked all the time.  It kind of sucked (no pun intended).  But now I remember their teeny tiny selves curled up around me, their crying pacified, my satisfaction of knowing that I was doing something good to care for them. Then there were those sleepy little milk coma faces after they were done, and the knowledge that I’d probably get at least a few moments of rest before the next round of crying or needing to feed them.  Just remembering that now makes me feel warm and fuzzy, although at the time I just wanted my body back.

I think even the shitty stuff is worth remembering – the sleepless nights, career compromises, exhaustion and endless pooping are good reminders that I don’t want a third child even after cuddling baby Henry tonight; nibbling his delicious baby face and having him grab my finger with his tiny hands was lovely but it doesn’t cancel out why I chose to stop after two kids.

Grandparents and parents of older children will see you with your little kids and also recommended that you pay attention as your children’s lives are unfolding because they go by too fast.  Sometimes I want them to go by faster, to get through the tough parts.  But tucked between the monotony and the frustration are the incredible moments of joy and love.  It’s what keeps us going as parents.  You can’t make a memory if you don’t remember it. That’s why I paused at the table tonight as we all laughed at our kids playing.  Let’s remember this one, I was saying, and save it for a rainy day when we’ll need it.

 

 

The abominable snowman is me

By Lisa Cucinotta

Thursday I was a monster.  A selfish, tired, cranky, inpatient mom that wanted desperately not to be on mom duty and did a pretty shitty job of parenting.  I feel the need to confess this to you, partly because I’ve been feeling incredibly guilty about being such an asshole and partly because I am hoping that maybe I’m not the only one.

It all started Wednesday with a predicted 1-3 inches of snow for today.  Then suddenly it was 3-5, then 5-8, then 50 hour winds, then a bomb cyclone (whatever the hell that is!) and then the apocalypse.  School was cancelled for Thursday even before Julia’s bedtime on Wednesday.  My nanny texted by nine pm to check if she should come.  YES PLEASE PLEASE is what I wanted to say.  But even I am not that big of a bitch.  She just got her car back after a month in the shop and it’s not exactly the kind of vehicle I’d want her to drive in heavy snow and wind.  Plus what if she got stuck here and couldn’t get out?  If I wouldn’t want to leave my house, why would I make her do it?

That meant someone had to stay home with the kids and that person was going to have to be me.  Why? Well for one, my husband had appointments with clients lined up at work as well as a doctor’s appointment, so he was prepared to brave the weather and go in. Secondly, on Wednesday I had soul crushing heartburn that made me feel like I was going to vomit, and I legit went to bed with a Tupperware container next to my bed just in case.  I managed not to puke but I did wake up several times throughout the night for various reasons so I didn’t sleep much at all.

Fast forward to 6 o’clock Thursday morning, the kids’ regular wakeup time, feeling like I had barely slept, and staring down at a full day trapped in the house with a six year old and a two and a half year old.  Oh the horror! I’m kidding, I know that doesn’t sound so bad. Stay at home moms do that every day.  But I’m not used to solo parenting for long stretches. On the weekends Brian and I co-parent, and on top of that we often split up the kids, with me taking Julia to a birthday party or out shopping while he hangs out with Luca, or he talks Julia to the grocery story and I stay home and play with Luca.  So I am not used to being alone with the kids for a twelve hour day, particularly not one where you can’t leave the house.

My key mistake of the day was to decide that I should still try to work while they were home, instead of just giving in and taking a day off.  You can’t get consistently productive work done with small kids home while being a good mom.  I cancelled most of my meetings but I was still online all day, responding to emails and instant messages and generally trying to act like I was at work. This wasn’t fair to the kids and it wasn’t their fault that they got restless and cranky and acted up.  Instead of building magnatiles or playing with kinetic sand or baking cookies together, I put on the tv and then pretty much yelled at them for wrestling with each other, or grabbing toys out of each others hands or jumping on the couch or whatever super annoying but completely normal and age appropriate acting out they were doing.

And the worst part is that I knew – I knew that I was being a jerk, but I still resented them.  For not playing quietly.  For interrupting me when I was on the phone.  For Julia being so physically aggressive with Luca that he had marks on his neck hours later.  Here’s the weird part – I am not sure that the kids knew.  I don’t think they had that bad of a day.  Julia has informed me many times that a particular day is “the worst day ever” and I didn’t get even one of those.  Her and Luca didn’t cry that much, despite repeatedly fighting with each other.  They both got fed moderately nutritious meals and snacks, had naps/rest time, watched movies, snuggled with me, etc.  So did my kids actually think I was a monster? Or is it just me that feels like a monster because I know what was in my head.  Because I was thinking: I don’t want to be here doing this. I don’t want to be responsible for these people right now.  I want to be responsible for myself and my work and nobody else.  I want to watch Netflix while I write my emails.  I want to take a quick nap between conference calls.  I want to work hard, but at doing work for my job, not at working at what’s really my more important job, which is being their mom.

They’ll probably never remember this day, and if I didn’t immortalize it in a blog I likely wouldn’t either.  If I had a popular blog, I’m not sure I’d publish this piece, as it makes me look particularly ugly.  But there is something cleansing about admitting the darkest parts of me, and even if you can’t relate, maybe it will make you feel a little better by way of comparison.  There’s always going to be someone out there better than us, and someone worse.

 

The gross, the grosser and the grossest

By Lisa Cucinotta

No one can describe parenting to you in a way that you’ll truly understand until you do it.  Every day, in big and small ways, you experience things that even your most intricate imagining of parenthood couldn’t possibly encompass.  Some of these are lovely things, moments that make you weep from the joy of them.  Others, are just.. gross.

Case in point: I pulled a dog hair out of my daughter’s butt crack the other night.  Did I lose you yet?  Was that too gross for you? Well, welcome to parenting. She was complaining of an itchy butt, and I went to check if she might have not wiped properly after pooping.  The sheer joy of not having to wipe my daughter’s butt after she poops is not always the freedom I envisioned in the early toilet training days.  Because sometimes, a five year old can’t entirely be trusted.  To wipe well, to wash their hands thoroughly… I mean, why do you think that little kids are constantly inundated with stomach flus and pink eye?

Anyway, the inspecting of butts doesn’t end after diapers, and is weirder and grosser the older they are, but such is parenting life.  So yeah, I made my daughter bend over, and there it was.  An errant dog hair stuck in her butt crack.  That dog’s hair gets everywhere.  In other gross news, I once got an infected abscess in my foot that turned out to be because of a dog hair splinter from this damn dog.

The other day a guy was talking about an old surgery and asked me if I wanted to see a picture of the scar from when it first happened, warning me it was gross.  I’m thinking to myself, sir, you haven’t seen gross.  I have been peed on so thoroughly that I had to change my entire outfit, including my underwear.  I have caught vomit in my hands, more than once.  I have seen baby poop squirt across a room.  I have had many, many types and pieces of half chewed food handed to, spit out or thrown at me.  I have picked and sucked boogers out of noses though I draw the line at the Nosefrida thing that somehow involves your mouth as suction for the snot. I get that its not like you suck the snot into your own mouth, but something about that bothers me somehow.  But I digress. But basically –  the things you’ll do for your kids, right?

In your old life, your pre-gross childfree life, what you considered icky now seems like child’s play (hah, pun unintended, but I’ll keep it).  Vomit? That was for food poisoning or drunkenness.   Poop?  Happens in your own bathroom, by yourself, with the door closed.  I’m one of the lucky ones who’s kids don’t feel compelled to be in the bathroom whenever I go (at least not usually).  But apparently bathroom stalking their moms is one of small children’s favorite activities.  Your sheets might get nasty because you were too lazy to change them, not because your kid peed the bed.  The sleeve of your shirt got dirty because you spilled a drink on it while dancing at a bar, not because your child decided they needed to use you as a napkin for their ketchup-y hands.

The amount of gross things you see as a parent desensitizes you to these every day gross things.  I’ve never been particular squeamish, but having children really puts you over the edge. And frankly it starts from pregnancy – morning sickness, hemorrhoids, sweating, swelling feet, heartburn, leaky boobs.  You name something gross, some pregnant woman has experienced it. I even read a story about a woman who lost all her hair when she was pregnant.  Like, literally went bald.  It was falling out in clumps.  Apparently it all grew back after she had her baby though!

Then you give birth and there’s a good chance you are going to poop on the table.  You have this debate yourself, if you have an epidural, as to whether you should ask.  Do you want to know if you did?  Or if you can just live in denial will that make it easier and less gross? So even if you don’t poop, or don’t know you pooped, you expel a wailing baby covered in gross goo. Then you have to deliver the placenta afterwards.  The placenta just hadn’t occurred to me.  They tell you about it in birthing class but you’re just so relieved you pushed the baby out that when they tell you you’re going to have push more just to get a bag of goo out too, it’s just, ugh.  Just thinking about placenta grosses me out a little …. but very little else does anymore.