Monthly Archives: November 2011

Wide Open Spaces for the Holidays

 

I originally posted this last Thanksgiving when I packed up the boys and hit the road—in my attempt to make the most of our solo Thanksgiving. This year, although we are staying home and having the Turkey Day with friends, I found myself gravitating to the countryside. I took my youngest, who is fighting a nasty cold, up to visit the horses in Palos Verdes. After screaming for almost an hour, he instantly calmed down when seeing the horses.

“Why are they so sad, mommy?” he asked when looking into one’s big eyes.

“They’re just soulful.” I replied.

“Yup. Sushful.”

But you know what? He was calm for the rest of the afternoon.

Kids really do need wide open spaces and soulful faces.

I hope you enjoy this post.

Happy Thanksgiving all.

L. x

**

It takes the shape of a place out west 

But what it holds for her, she hasn’t yet guessed 

~ Dixie Chicks 

This Thanksgiving weekend I packed up my boys and headed North toward the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I needed to get out of this town. I needed to breathe. I needed a vista. I needed to distract and cheer up my children. I needed to run far away from the insanity of my life and recent disappointments. So when my oldest did a report for school about a small cowboy and ranching town in the shadow of Mount Whitney, I got the idea. Why should we stay in LA where we have no family? Why should we be alone during the holidays just because I’m on a small budget and can’t travel back East?

As my son researched Lone Pine for his report, I realized that we had actually driven past it a few times on our way to Mammoth. My soon-to-be Ex skis, and we were always in a hurry to get to Mammoth for that reason. Before my son’s report, I didn’t know that 400 movies had been filmed in the area, mostly westerns, but also parts of Gladiator and Iron Man. The majestic beauty of the Sierras amongst miles of ranch land is an amazing backdrop for movies. We had driven through the small Indian reservations and the towns of Lone Pine and Bishop, but never stopped along the way before. Who knew there was so much to discover that is virtually free to visit? This time I stopped along the highway with the boys and we explored the historic fish hatchery;  Manzanar museum where Japanese-Americans were held as prisoners during WW 11; the adorable Beverly and Jim Rogers Lone Pine Museum of Film History; and the Laws Railroad Museum.

This trip was all about slowing down (which is mandatory when traveling with a three-year-old!) and getting off the beaten path. We didn’t stay at a fancy ski resort, but at a modest motel with a breath-taking view. We walked through town and talked with the locals at the drug store, mexican restaurant and Subway where we discussed various topics from Elvis verses Justin Bieber, to teenagers today, to crazy temper tantrums—as my three-year-old showed off his tantrum antics in all places! My only big splurge was riding boots and a horse riding lesson for my oldest. Before I left, I called the chamber of commerce for horse back riding referrals. They directed me to a horse trainer in Bishop who is well-known for training champion jumpers. She was kind enough to give my son a lesson. In fact, the three of us visited the Millpond Equestrian Center in Owens Valley north of Bishop twice to feed and chat with the horses (and dogs and one precocious kitten!).

The one-hour drive from Lone Pine to Bishop, that we did twice, was my favorite. The views are nothing short of spectacular. The youngest napped as William and I sang songs and I breathed in the beauty of the white-capped mountains bathed in fields of gold. As I looked ahead, or in my rear-view mirror, I began thinking of the power of letting go. There is power in not engaging in crazy behavior by others (if any of you have experienced that!) and saying no by moving forward and away from it. Most importantly, there is power in seeking honesty and beauty wherever you can find it.

During my drives I often thought of my lovely, new friends—all single moms who are struggling so much right now. I so wish that you all could have taken a similar trip. There’s something about wide open spaces. It not only lets you breathe deeply, but somehow it helps you expand. I could feel myself trusting the Universe again. I could actually feel hope start to fill my lungs by the second day I was away. Pictures tell a story so much better than I ever could. Here’s my journey. I left Los Angeles blue, confused and with a heavy heart from recent hurts. As I rose in altitude, so did my spirits. Who knew there were so many lessons to be learned on the road?

Extreme pressure is transforming. Hang on. You’ll rise above all of this.

Elk, or Reindeer Crossing? Magic, wonder and mystery may still cross your path.

Kindness heals. Your children know kind souls when they meet them.
Face whatever comes toward you, but don’t forget the bigger picture and the better focus for your life.
Try new things. (And keep your chin up when you do!)
Get off the beaten path. Don’t be afraid to strike out on your own.

Asthma Attack

This morning, at 7:45, I had an asthma attack in front of my boys. Talk about vulnerability and panic crashing over me in waves. I was standing over the oven, cooking pancakes, and slowly started having difficulty breathing. I haven’t had an asthma attack in four or five years, so I brushed it off. Then the constrictions seized my chest, my heart is pumping overtime, I’m dizzy and then I crumbled to the floor. My poor 3-year-old, who has asthma, came over to me. I raised my arm and whispered, “Mommy isn’t breathing so well.” He ran to his older brother down stairs and told him to get his “breathing machine” aka nebulizer down. By that time, I literally couldn’t get up. It was so scary. My two boys helped me put the nebulizer with the elephant mask for kids, over my face. Within 20 minutes, I was able to drive William to school. Now home with my younger, I’ve had two more treatments, am still shaking a bit, and realize how lucky I am.

When I lived in London I saw an acupuncturist each week and she got me so healthy that I’m convinced she is the reason why I have Jamesy today. She also put me on mushroom pills for my immune system. Time to go back on them now. Too bad acupuncture is so expensive in this country. I guess it’s time to see a specialist again and get loaded on all the meds, inhalers, etc. that I’ll need before I lose health insurance when the divorce is final. Why is it that moms can’t stay on an ex’s insurance if she is the sole care-taker of their children? I mean, if mommy is sick, who takes care of the little guys? Well, this is a wake up call. Time to take care of myself.

Sleep Training Update: Almost There!

Remember Love and Calmness When Sleep Training

Oh my love will fly to you each night on

A n g e l’ s wings 

Godspeed Little Man

Sweet Dreams Little Man

And I … L o v e … You.

~ Dixie Chicks

Two and three-year-olds are unrelenting trouble and unconditional love rolled up into one. They are monkey business, laughter, sticky fingers and gooey love one minute—then temper tantrums and hell-on-wheels screaming the next. By the end of the day, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that our children are blessings. They believe in magic, have open hearts close to angel’s and are innocent—even when screaming. Single moms close to exhaustion can easily forget this when their cherubs just won’t sleep at the end of the day. I know. I’ve been there.

In fact, my situation was so bad, I sought expert counsel and Jill Spivack of Sleepeasy Solution came to help via the Dr. Drew’s Lifechangers show (watch the clip shown on TV here.) Jill is amazingly thoughtful and takes her work seriously. Even after the show taping, she called many times to see how I was doing. I can’t recommend her and her company enough! Her advice did help, tremendously, but in ways that she may not realize. As a former parenting editor and journalist, I had read many tactics to sleep-train babies and toddlers. My situation was unique because I have my nine-year-old in the same room as my almost three-year-old. I didn’t sleep-train Jamesy when he was a baby, as I was breastfeeding him in my bed. And to be honest, I was a bit depressed as I was (and still am) going through a divorce with little family help, and their dad living abroad. Back then, I was always exhausted and let the baby sleep with me to make breastfeeding easier and allow his older brother the chance to get much-needed sleep for school.

But by the time the baby was a year and a half, I started trying to sleep-train him. He hated his nursery on the first floor and would run upstairs where my and his older brother’s bedrooms are located. Jamesy would be shaking while screaming and I’d give in and let him sleep with me. Later, to remedy the situation, I put bunk beds in the master bedroom and moved both boys in there this summer. Since Jamesy hates to be alone, I thought he’d be more comfortable with his big brother and I had the summer to sleep-train him.

Surprise, surprise, it didn’t work. Jamesy still wanted to sleep with me, and to be fair, I wasn’t consistent in my attempts to get him to sleep on his own. When I got completely exhausted, I’d give in. For instance, after three days of sleep-training—when I’d gently nudge the toddler back into the room and say “night-night”, over and over and over again—I’d find myself dragging for days afterwards. Most nights I didn’t fall asleep until midnight, but was still up at 6 a.m. My little guy just napped more during the day to catch up, but I was working. By the end of the week, I felt like I was broken. Jamesy is very stubborn: he’d scream and scream and then get himself jacked up and excited instead of tired. At that point, his older brother would start yelling at him, taking an authoritative role like a drill sergeant, which never works. The minute I’d start raising my voice to quiet both of them, I knew it was over. By the fourth day, I’d give in and sleep with my little guy to make peace and let his big brother sleep too. After days of falling asleep in the bunk bed with my clothes on and not brushing my teeth or washing my face, I’d start to get resentful. (I mean, who wouldn’t?) Of course this situation couldn’t go on forever. But it feels that way when you’re in it—especially when you’re in it alone.

What I learned with Jill is that the whole process has to come from a place of love. If the older brother is inserting corporal punishment or yelling and adding more stress to the situation, he needs to be removed. So while I trained Jamesy, William slept in another room. The other brilliant tactic of Jill’s is her book. All toddlers love books where they are the main character and it preps them for how the process will begin and end. Jill and I created a book together called “Jamesy Goes Nite Nite.” In this book, with stick figures, I tell Jamesy that I love him SO much, I want him to get a good night’s sleep. We explained why this is so important for him and why it’s a matter of loving him so much—it’s not about me needing sleep or needing time alone. Two and three-year-olds don’t care about your needs, remember?

Finally, Jill reminded me that sleep-training doesn’t need to terrify a little guy. Leaving Jamesy in the room to “cry-it-out” really isn’t fair or nice, especially at this age. I had considered locking the door, as some other moms had suggested to me, “in order to break him.” Jill reminded me that when a child approaches three, they start to believe in all sorts of things—such as monsters, dragons or evil witches, etc. He may be having legitimate fears. And just after I saw Jill, sure enough, Jamesy started expressing them. Which is why I waited until after Halloween to start in ernest and I limited trick-or-treating to a neighborhood that wasn’t too scary.

Even still, Halloween got under his skin a bit.

“Monsters, mommy! Monsters under the bed!” he said one night, running into my room. “Spider came up through the bed and ate me!” he said another night.

So, after putting William in my room for two nights as I “trained” Jamesy, I’m having much more success. Not every night is smooth sailing, but it’s getting easier. I also came up with a few additional solutions of my own, that may help other moms with multiple kids or single moms who lack additional hands for help:

  1. Create a way to tackle fears.
    For me, it was monster spray. I made a huge deal out of buying monster spray and I showed it to my son. It is a spray bottle with water of course, but I said I bought it at a magic store and I sprayed it all around his room and bed…so now NO monsters can come near him! For the spiders, I told him that all spiders were terrified of geckos and guppies. Since we have a fish tank and a huge gecko in his room, he’s safe. In fact, the safest spot in the WHOLE house is his room.
  2. Reward the older sibling for helping.
    One night when we were saying our prayers, which consist of listing the 9 and 3 things the boys are thankful for (9 things for a 9-year-old, 3 for a 3-year-old) I said what I was thankful for: “I am super thankful that Jamesy has a big brother who would do anything for him, loves him and protects him.” William laughed, but it made a big difference. In the morning, I found the two of them sleeping together in the top bunk. (I’ve also added “being nice to your little brother” on his board of chores for his allowance. Might be bribery, but it’s starting to work!)
  3. Be flexible with bedtime.
    Since my kids are far apart in age, their bedtimes differ. I used to spend hours on bedtimes—trying to enforce on earlier time for the baby, then going through another routine with the older. Of course, finding it hard to find time to finish whatever I need to do later, such as dishes, lunch, my own editing, before bed, etc. I was spinning my wheels for hours, as the baby wouldn’t sleep until big brother was down. Why fight it? I’m now taking a more European approach. I let the younger stay up later with big brother, as I wash dishes and get myself ready for bed. Then I put them both down at the same time: 8:30. The older son gets a flashlight and can read in the top bunk for 30 minutes as I help Jamesy fall asleep. For now, it’s working.
  4. Stay Calm.
    Even if Jamesy doesn’t want to sleep on his own, I gently nudge him back into his room over and over again calmly. I never raise my voice. In fact, by the third nudge, I say nothing and just pat his back and walk him back to his room. For a week it was tough, but now, it takes about 3 nudges and he’s on his own.
  5. Tell them where you’ll be.
    I think just knowing that I’m right next door, reassures him. I used to think it would inspire him to follow me, but it does the exact opposite.
  6. Allow middle of the night snuggles.
    If your kiddo sneaks into your room in the middle of the night, let it slide. In fact, enjoy it. They grow up so fast, you’ll miss snuggle time later. I find that if my little guy goes to bed on his own, but sneaks into my room at 3 a.m. scared by something, I’m better off letting him stay there and not making a big deal out of it.

I hope these additional tips are helpful. If you’re a single parent of a little one like me, just remember that this phase of your life won’t last forever. Don’t compare yourself to others. Don’t think about other couples who take turns with the kiddos. Don’t allow yourself to sink into doubt or self pity. Call a friend in the morning and thank God for your little angels. Remember that they want to feel safe and if you can help them feel safe now, it will last a lifetime. In fact, helping them feel safe, may be more important than getting them to bed at a specific time, so keep your cool.

Hope my story helps. Email if you’d like to chat, or let me know what is working for you!

~ L.