IT TAKES A VILLAGE (AND DR. DREW) TO GET MY SON TO SLEEP!
Producers from the Dr. Drew’s Lifechangers show asked me to participate in their parenting program that aired Oct. 24th. After finding out how I’ve been struggling to get my youngest to sleep on his own, and how I’m constantly waking up in the morning smooshed in the corner of his bunkbed without having brushed my teeth or washed my face and still fully dressed (pitiful, right?!), they sent Jill Spivack, a pediatric sleep expert and creator of the Sleepeasy Solution, to my house! After a 3-hour consultation, Jill notes that I’m not consistent with Jamesy because I want his big brother, who sleeps in the top bunk, to get some rest. After a few days of Ferberizing my toddler, I give in so his 9-year-old big brother can get much-needed sleep for school.
She’s convinced me to stay strong. See how Jill preps me to train my needy toddler to sleep on his own! Come back next week for the update on how it went!
This week has been INSANE!! Trying to cook healthy meals for my little ones has been an incredible juggling act between all of my kid’s activities, my oldest son’s tests and homework projects and my just-turned 3-year-olds hunger and temper tantrums. Let me back up. I think many cook books, magazines, food shows, etc. forget to cater to the reality of today’s frazzled single mom—who on some nights, has literally only minutes to get a meal on the table. On nights with extra-curriculars, I have a finite amount of time to feed my kiddos, sometimes only 15 minutes. Any excess chopping needs, can throw me off due to the crazed demands of my toddler who behaves like a terrorist at dinner time. My three-year-old must eat by 6/6:30 or he will nosh his way through my cooking time and then not eat the healthy, nutritious meal I worked so hard to prepare. He literally climbs the shelves in my pantry (that won’t lock!), grabbing crackers, chips or breakfast bars, and has temper tantrums when I say no—delaying my meal prep even more. So when I’m rushing home from soccer practice at 6:15 this past Tuesday, I started to panic. The coach went over and I didn’t get home with my two little guys until 6:30. I was desperate to have them eat a healthy meal and not succumb to the ease of pizza delivery or a fast food drive through —especially after my youngest’s bday party on Monday! So with that in mind, I quickly put baby carrots and apple slices around some hummus for the boys to snack on, popped in a Fireman Sam DVD, and raced to put together a meal in 15 minutes. I have to say, it was an amazing success! Both boys ate all of it, and my oldest even said he’d like it again. I’m thrilled that I found another quick, yummy meal that gives my boys: Omegas, calcium and protein from the salmon as well as vitamins K, C, A & Bs from the snap peas. And the confetti rice, with ginger, baby corn and lemon grass, is scrumptious.
Ingredients from Trader Joe’s:
Gyoza sauce, wild salmon sockeye fillets I bought on Sunday for $8.99 a pound, frozen confetti rice, a bag of snap peas and ginger dressing.
Prep: 4 minutes Bake: 10 – 15 minutes
1. Pre-heat oven to 350 F
2. Place 2 – 3 salmon fillets in a glass baking dish and pour TJ’s Gyozo sauce on top and place in oven. Cook for 10 – 15 minutes, depending on thickness of fillets.
3. Steam TJ’s snap peas 5 – 7 minutes, then transfer to small bowl. Stir in 2 tablespoons of TJ’s ginger sauce if desired.
4. Place one bag of TJ’s frozen confetti rice in microwave. Take frozen rice out of bag and into microwave safe bowl. Follow microwave cooking directions. (I microwaved mine for 3 minutes, then fluffed it with a fork, and microwaved again for 2 more minutes. )
One of the bitter ironies for most single parents is that we’d do anything for our kids, but find that we have very little quality time with them. Can you relate? Even when I’m not working on weekends, I find that I’m constantly playing the disciplinarian and not able to reconnect, reassure, or just have fun with them. Between my nine-year-old’s antics (that seem more like those of a teenager’s)—to my two-year-old’s temper tantrums, most weekends roll along with me nagging, discipling, and often yelling “No!” or “Stop doing that to your brother!” at my adorable boys. It’s exhausting. Sadly, when children are dealing with the stress of a divorce, experts say they often act out more than normal and take out their fears, anger, frustration and anxiety on the parent who is caring for them most. This is also a time when they need more reassurance, love and stability than ever. Striking a balance between providing much needed discipline and reassurance is tricky. It’s so tempting to overcompensate for their loss and let certain bad behaviors slide, which experts say is a mistake. (Check out this story of mine for discipline strategies.)
But if you’re spending most of your time together nagging about homework, racing to and from scheduled activities, prepping dinner and disciplining your children—when can you find time to reconnect and reassure your troubled children? Believe it or not, one expert says we can do it while they are asleep. Yup, you heard me right—after you say goodnight.
I met Lois Y. Haddad RN, the author of Sleep Talk, at a friend’s speaking engagement a few weeks ago. When she told me that she developed this program after working as a nurse with critically ill children at UCLA Medical Center, I was hooked. She realized that children often heard encouraging words whispered to them when they slept. She shared with me a story about a nine-year-old boy whose father set him on fire. More than 60 % of his body was covered with burns and he had lost the will to live. Lois, whose shift was from 3 p.m. – 11 p.m., would whisper to him after he fell asleep that she didn’t know “why this had happened to him, that he was a wonderful boy and that now was his chance to help other people through impossible situations.” The grafts began to take and the boy began to heal and he is currently a motivational speaker. Lois was so successful with children, that her husband, a general practitioner, often sent parents who were struggling with a host of issues with their kids—from back talk, to shyness, to lack of self esteem—to Lois.
When I was talking with her at this Orange County speaking engagement, I began thinking about all of the studies that I’ve read suggesting that some people in comas can actually hear what was said to and around them. (Read the story “I Was In a Coma But Could Hear Every Word” for inspiration!)
As she spoke to me I had a bit of an Aha moment, as Oprah would say. I instantly remembered a time in college when a dear friend had been crushed in a devastating car accident that instantly killed our other friend who was with her. I would visit Sarah in the south Georgia hospital the emergency crew drove her to, and see a version of her that was unbearable as she was completely immobilized and hooked up to tubes. She had suffered incredible brain and internal injuries, and while we weren’t sure she’d make it, something told me to bring my photos along. Maybe it was Divine intervention? Before making the three hour drive to see her, I dug out my photography class notebook and found the gorgeous black and white photos I took of Sarah. In most of the shots she appears to be floating in air: her black curly hair is flying around her, her polka dot mini skirt creating a ballooned mushroom that her bent knees are tucked under, only her white tennis shoes emerging from. Her smile is infectious. Somehow, I captured the essence of her spirit in our photo shoot. Sarah, who was studying to be an art therapist for special needs children, was vivacious, silly, funny, a romantic nut and full of life. She wasn’t this immovable person attached to tubes in order to breathe and eat. I taped these pictures of her leaping in the air all around her bed. I wanted all the nurses in this small Georgian town where she happened to have a car accident en route back from Florida, to see who she was. I wanted them to talk to the girl in the photo. I wanted them to talk about the girl in the photo. I wanted them to address her as she was—because somehow, I just knew she could hear them. I hope I was right.
So, as I was speaking with Lois, Sarah’s smiling face flashed before my eyes and what the former RN was saying about connecting with children as they sleep made intuitive sense to me. Here’s the gist of Sleep Talk:
After your child is asleep, go back into the room and talk with him/her. If you’ve had a terrible day together with lots of disagreements, it’s great to talk with your child as he’s looking adorable asleep. Your tone of voice will automatically become quieter, softer, more loving. It’s hard to have a dismissive or aggressive tone as you look at your sleeping angel. And, what you have to say will have more power coming from a loving place.
“A child hears differently in a sleep state than a wake state … But you need to introduce yourself gently, such as ‘William, this is your mother,’ when you begin [Sleep Talk] so that you raise the child up to an alpha brain wave frequency and he’ll let you in, know you’re a safe voice,” she explains.
For single moms of children who are struggling with their conflicting emotions during a divorce, Sleep Talk can be a great way for both the mom and the child to reconnect, says Lois.
“Doing Sleep Talk helps you dump any emotional garbage of the day. Through reaffirming your love and pride for him, you allow him to truly hear you on the deepest level and you clear the slate for the next day’s activities,” she says.
Lois has created many scripts for parents to use in her book, including one for children of divorce, and each can be tweaked for your situation as I think single parents often know what they want to say to their kids. Depending on your child’s age, the divorce issues will vary. But for my soon-to-be 10-year-old, I know I need to reassure him that everything is going to be ok. He needs to know that he’s loved; that this divorce wasn’t his or his little brother’s fault; that I’m proud of him; and that I will always be there for him. For a little boy, he is worried about so many adult things for the future: about our financial security; about whether his dad will live permanently in London; about whether mommy will marry someone else some day and who that will be; about whether we’ll have to move from Los Angeles in order to save money, etc. I know what I want to whisper to him. And I’ve already started. Let me tell you, even if Sleep Talk doesn’t change some of my son’s behavior, it is changing me. When I look at his adorable face while he’s asleep, I remember that he’s just a boy. My resentments and my anger at him for back-talking just drift away. I’ll continue with my discipline during the day—I mean, I can’t let him watch TV and play video games all day or hit his little brother can I? And while I do tell him I love him during the day, it’s usually after a day of nagging and cajoling and I can tell he’s tuning me out. Now at night, I tell him softly: “Mommy loves you. She’s SO proud of you. This isn’t your fault. We’re going to be okay.”
So you want to find Mr. Right? It’s simple: stop doing all the wrong (albeit fun) things when you first meet, says Dr. Pat Allen, Ph.D., relationship and communication therapist in Los Angeles. Allen is also the author of several best-selling books including: Getting To I-Do and The Truth About Men Will Set You Free, (But First It Will Piss You Off!)You may be more familiar with her, however, from her multiple TV interviews or her work on the TV show Millionaire Matchmaker where her blunt talk about sex and relationship blunders borders on the comical. Here’s a clip to see what I mean. (It’s ok, go ahead and watch it, I’ll wait!)
I met Dr. Allen in 2009 when I was desperately trying to keep my marriage together. Through a friend’s psychic vision (yeah, I know, but it really happened), I discovered that my husband started an affair when working abroad while I was at home with our six month old baby and his older brother. I try not to focus on all the details of this sordid time, and the time that followed of yo-yo-ing back and forth in this cycle of forgiveness and betrayal again and again. My life had become the car wreck that friends and family couldn’t stop themselves from slowing down to look at. When I think back to that period when I was still breastfeeding and down to 92 lbs from sheer sorrow, I just die inside. So, like a race car driver who refuses to look at the wall when he races, I’m keeping my eyes on the better road ahead.
Just know that three months of therapy with Dr. Allen helped me let go of an impossible situation. She taught me about the male brain and the drug-like effects of dopamine on men who are ascending into places of power. And, I learned that I was too nice, codependent, and had lost my power and my ability to say no in relationships that resulted in mistreatment.
I turned to Dr. Allen to advise all of us single moms who are venturing out into the dating world as newbies. Her books will teach you many things, including how right-handed men think (very interesting, but for another blog) and how you have to negotiate commitment with men and never assume they can be monogamous…which is a bitter pill to swallow, isn’t it? So my first question to her on the night we met at her office in West Los Angeles was this:
“What is the biggest tip you can give women entering the dating world again?”
Without hesitation, she replied: “Stop drinking. Pure and simple.”
She speaks in a quintessentially blunt, staccato voice. I’m listening, expecting a more elaborate explanation. When she doesn’t continue I push her for information on this topic as how many women like to have a glass of wine on a first date to take the edge off? The relationship expert explains that a woman can’t size up a man correctly if she even has one drink on the first date or before commitment.
“Wine (on the first date, first meeting) knocks out instincts for her and knocks out intelligence and intuition for him. They go home, have sex and wake up with strangers. The chemistry is all wrong,” Dr. Allen explains.
The relationship guru continues that “you need to be sober to feel chemistry.”
Sexual attraction that builds over drinks isn’t true chemistry, she reminds me.
Ok, I can do that. I don’t drink that much anymore anyway. The other tip for finding Mr. Right might be a bit trickier: NO sex.
And I don’t just mean on the first date, which isn’t an issue for many of us. Dr. Allen says a woman shouldn’t “consummate a relationship” before commitment.
“Don’t have sex without a commitment and don’t make a commitment under the influence,” she explains.
Before having sex with a man, women need to have at least “a gut feeling of the goodness of the person we are with.” That can’t happen under the influence and women bond too quickly with a man after sex—but clearly, it’s often with the wrong man.
This is science at work. If a woman is attracted to a man, the hormone oxytocin is released into her body, which heightens the sense of touch and orgasm. If she drinks and then has sex with a man that she knows little about, she can become addicted to him. This makes her disregard any red flags that she would have normally picked up on—such as drug use, a history of infidelity, sexual addiction, mental illness, anger issues, financial instability, etc.
“The problem with oxytocin-based addictive bonding to an inappropriate man is that the intellect is relegated to a secondary status in choice and judgment. The good counsel of parents, friends, religious leaders and psychotherapists is of no benefit. Addiction to oxytocin as a pleasure takes over,” Dr. Allen says.
Ok, Dr. Allen’s advice makes sense to me. But, like a lot of things in life, it might be harder to put all of it into practice. I always wait to have sex with a man until I feel a bit of goodness about him, and never on the first date. I remember hearing about the “3 Date Rule” when living in New York. Do you guys know of that one? Well, waiting until the third date to have sex is complete rubbish, according to Dr. Allen, unless you just want to have fun and don’t care whether you end up abused or in a long-term relationship.
What do you think single moms (and single women in general!) out there? I ran across a couple of great single mom blogs recently where this debate is raging. MsSingleMama.com, (who rocks, btw!) often writes about her dating adventures and chats with other single moms about the importance of having sex. In a forum asking how long it had been for her single mom readers some moms wrote in that it had been 18 months or even 2 years! Wait, these are gorgeous, smart, savvy, young women. What’s going on here? Well, most of us just won’t bring a man home to the kiddos. And, many of us are completely gun-shy after the heartbreak of our divorces. Dr. Allen says we all need to know that “No man is monogamous.” (Why this should be reassuring is hard to get right away!) A line from our interview that is so apropo for this is: “The man you’re afraid of is THE MAN.”
All men want to cheat, but not all do, she says. In order to find the good guys, the ones who will cherish and love you and feel horribly if they hurt you, you need to weed out the bad.
As a recap, here are Dr. Allen’s top tips to successfully find a good guy:
Don’t drink on the first date, even one glass of vino, so you can determine chemistry and listen to your intuition.
Don’t have sex on the first date, ever.
Don’t have sex until a firm commitment, so you don’t bond with the wrong fella.
Don’t drink with your new man until you have a commitment.
Why does she insist on these rules? Because you have to have true chemistry, compatibility and great communication to make a relationship work. “You will know in three minutes whether you have great chemistry with a man,” Dr. Allen insists.
Ok, I think I have three minutes.
And, she says give a potential good guy at least three dates in order to realize whether your intellect is disregarding him prematurely. But don’t drink on these dates!
Well, I’ve got three minutes and three evenings to spare. … Maybe I can tip-toe back out there after all. How about you? Do you think you can follow her rules? Do you even want to? Please chime in!!
Ok, so this week has been wonderful and nuts! Sorry for not writing in sooner … Today I’m getting filmed for the Dr. Drew’s Lifechangers show! Earlier this week I filmed little snippets of Jamesy at bedtime, who has been a horrible sleeper since day one! Their top sleep expert and Dr. Drew’s film crew is coming over tonight to give me the tools to get this little guy sleeping on his own by his 3rd birthday! I’m SO excited. I just can’t imagine sleeping in my OWN bed again every night! How many nights have I woken up at 4 a.m.—yet again—smooshed into the slat of Jamesy’s bunkbed, fully dressed, without brushing my teeth! Ah, I’m SO excited and grateful for the help Dr. Drew!
And, last week I interviewed Dr. Pat Allen, best selling author and therapist for the Millionaire Match show, who really gave me tough, straight talk. She minced NO words when giving me the tools I need to get back out into the dating world. Her advice will help all women who want to avoid falling for the wrong guy yet again.
So, stay tuned! I can’t wait to update ya’ll on both of these experts! Wow, great advice for dating AND a sleep expert to help me get my little guy sleeping on his own. 2012 might just be my best year yet!!
Time off for me just wasn’t in the cards this past week. If you read my last post than you know how excited I was to have a day off from the kiddos. Something, clearly, was conspiring in the Universe against this plan. My ex emailed me Sunday a.m. that he had missed his flight from London to LA. Well…I don’t always check email first thing on a Sunday, so both my boys were waiting and packed for his 10 a.m. pick up. Around 9:45, I got a nagging feeling, like a pit of doubt, that sometimes settles in my stomach when dealing with my ex. Before checking my email I instinctively knew it was off.
I had a suspicious feeling the overnight visit might not happen for the boys, even before Sunday morning. See, I have this theory about bad things happening in 3s. When I was a crime reporter for a daily newspaper in North Carolina we’d expect a third murder by the next full moon. If there had only been one murder that month, we knew to expect two murders by the morning. And it always worked out that way. Even our EMT friends and emergency room staff would get ready. I still don’t know why that is. … But I digress. My little let-downs are nothing compared to murders obviously, but still, I was on alert.
First there was the poop in the bath Friday night—a sign that relaxing in the jacuzzi sans children might not happen. The second sign happened the next day when I almost wrecked. I was in a hurry to get my son to his soccer game. At a red light I quickly put sunscreen on my face (I’m neurotic now after two skin cancer scares) and then handed it back to my boys. I’m rubbing it in quickly, the light turns green, and as I cross the intersection, I feel an excruciating pain suddenly cut into my eyes and then I can ‘t see. If it wasn’t dangerous it would be hilarious. I start screaming “Mother!” One of my boys starts laughing, the other crying. I pull over after I manage to cross the intersection and tears won’t stop streaming from my eyes. Man, it was so bad, I could barely navigate to the soccer fields and commenced to cry the entire game. I couldn’t see to cheer my little guy on and my two-year-old kept walking up to the other parents saying, “Something’s wrong with my mommy!” Little does he know what a loaded statement that is! LOL
So, I survive the game and start to get excited about Sunday’s impending freedom. As you know, it never happens. Well, I made the best of it. My boys and I actually had a blast. I still don’t know why their dad didn’t call first thing. I called him and asked him to tell the boys via skype why he wouldn’t be there. He promised to squeeze in a five hour visit during his layover the next day on his way to Australia. My oldest held back tears.
So, the lesson learned is that I always need to have a plan B. I packed them up and we went to a local October fair where we ran into schoolmates and neighbors. It was a great day, even in the scorching heat. That evening I invited a good friend, also a single mom, and her son over for dinner. I made the yummiest salad with heirloom farmer’s market tomatoes and avocados, baked chicken with herbs de Provence and roasted carrots and fingerling potatoes. Even the kiddos loved it! We played puzzles with the youngest and the two oldest boys played with Star Wars legos. I have to say, it ended up being one of the best Sundays I have had in a long time.
And you know what? Their dad did show up the next day during his layover, bearing presents. He met us at school where I volunteer as a creative writing teacher once a week. I was so nervous that his flight might get delayed, or something else might happen to thwart the visit, that I had a backup plan of an ice cream play-date in the works. But, I didn’t need it. As I walk out of the classroom, my ex is leaning against the wall, his suitcase in hand. He has his English blue sweater on—clearly sweating in our Southern California heat—with a smile on his face that I forgotten he owned. It’s a smile the melts hearts. My oldest ran to him. The teacher seemed enamored with him and chatted nervously with him a bit before we three, oddly, walk into town together as if we see each other every day. The youngest, who was with the sitter, got to see his dad later and oh’d and ah’d over his bath toys from Hamley’s. As odd as it was, it ended up being a great, albeit short, visit for the boys. In the end, they are very excited about seeing him next weekend when he’s on another stop over from Australia back to London. I’m confident he won’t let them down this time. But then again, cough, you know what Mr. Burns says about the best laid plans …
This week my son and I made stuffed shells together. (Don’t you love the picture taken by my son?! One might get the idea that I’m June Cleaver … Ha! We all knowbetter!) While my two-year-old was in school, my oldest and I set up an assembly line in the kitchen and stuffed shells, shredded Parm and made a bloody mess. This is such an old-school, yummy recipe, and you can make enough for two dinners and freeze some for another time. (Which should be some consolation for all the clean up involved!) I served mine with a mixed salad, but you could add sauteed spinach to your sauce to make a complete meal. Sorry, this isn’t fat, gluten or dairy free, but so good for a special treat!
1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Lightly oil a baking pan or two, as you may want to freeze a batch.
2. Bring a large pot of water with a pinch of salt to boiling. Add shells and cook until slightly tender, 5 minutes. Drain and arrange a single layer in baking pans.
3. In a large skillet, heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic, onion and salt and pepper to your liking. Stir 2 to 3 minutes. Add beef and continue to stir 5 minutes or until no longer pink.
4. For tomato sauce, in a second skillet over low heat, combine remaining olive oil, garlic and undrained tomatoes and mushrooms. Season with Italian spices: a dash or oregano, pepper and basil. Simmer and cook 15 to 20 minutes.
5. Pour 1 1/2 cups of the tomato mixture into ground beef, add ricotta and 2/3 cup of the Parmigiano cheese; combine well.
6. Fill each pasta shell with approximately 1 tablespoon meat and cheese combo. Arrange shells into prepared baking dishes and spoon sauce ontop and around. Sprinkle remaining shredded Parmigiano cheese on top.
This week has been nuts—even more than my norm. (Can you imagine?) And, sadly, I didn’t handle it as gracefully as I could have. To be fair, the lack of sleep and potty training is making me batty. My soon-to-be three-year-old just won’t sleep. What is going on? Is there a drug for this? (For either of us??) He’s been a bad sleeper his whole little life, but it’s been especially a struggle for the past three months. For a while I was Ferberizing him—you know, the Ferber method where you let him cry it out. Well, he shares a room with his big brother and his big brother needs to sleep to be present at school. When I was Ferberizing him, my stubborn little guy would scream and run out of the room over and over and over again until almost midnight. I would walk him back in, say he was a big boy and he needed to sleep on his own, put him back in bed, only to have him run out again. Needless to say, both William and I were going crazy. Eventually, I’d give in and lie down with him. Even then, it would take him an hour, maybe more, to actually fall asleep. He’d hug me and say, “I lub you mommy.” Often times, when we’re lying there, he’ll play with his animals, spin around like a top until his head is at the bottom of the bed or he’ll kick the wall … You get the idea. It’s maddening. Both William and I usually fall sleep before him. Typically, most nights I wake up at 3 or 4 a.m. with my body slammed into the small slat of the bottom bunk bed with his chubby arm up on my shoulder. I usually am still fully dressed and my teeth haven’t been brushed, my face not washed—I’m a complete mess. So I get up and start my day, not able to fall back to sleep after the five or so hours I did get. I’ve had a crick in my neck for a week over this due to the bunk bed slat business. I’m going CRAZY!
Twice this week I’ve actually hired a sitter in order to put the little guy down for me. Both times, I’ve returned at 10/10:30 p.m. and he’s STILL UP! I found myself standing over my adorable cherub dressed in footy pajamas. I’ll put my hands on my waist, put on a stern look and ask why he’s still up.
What’s a sleep-deprived, crazy mom to do? Well, one morning this week, at 4 a.m. I broke down and called the ex in London. NOT my most graceful moment. (Ironically, my first post four weeks ago was about how sleep deprivation and stress can cause decision fatigue and cause a person to make bad decisions. See: “No Wonder I Can’t Decide What’s For Dinner”) Since he hasn’t been with his boys since July, and I’m about to have a nervous breakdown, I let him have it. Not cool. I have no idea how many times I used the F word. Seriously, this was not my most zen moment. But you know what? I apologized later in the morning for losing my cool and explained to him rationally the extent of my sleep-deprived state. And you know what else? He’s called the boys at least two times this week and is squeezing in a one day layover on his way from London to Australia on Sunday and a weekend visit on his way back the following week.
Hooray for small miracles!
I’m SO excited. If all goes well, this Sunday evening I’m going to enjoy the most luxurious bath I’ve ever had followed by a good nights rest—in my own bed!
I don’t think I’ve been this grateful for one day off in all my life.
AloneTogether: Single Moms Support Group (This is a closed group, please say you found their site from me, Laura Roe Stevens, when requesting to join.)
The UCLA Family Commons: http://www.uclacommons.com/
Single Parent Housing: www.SPAOA.org
Pell Grants For Mothers: PellGrants.ClassesAndCareers.com