Tag Archives: Jamesy

A Mother’s Legacy: Music and Memories

A rare event: mom playing piano for an audience in 1999.

My mother escaped in her music. I imagine that it held magical qualities for her. It lifted her up out of her life. It gave her a voice when she didn’t allow herself to speak. It gave her eloquence. And it was private. She played at home, preferably alone.

If you’ve ever seen someone play piano by ear, you might have an idea of what I am describing. It’s amazing to hear and watch a person completely transformed while they play. But again, with mom, it was immensely personal and I always knew it was how she communicated best, or worked out her feelings. My mother rarely said she loved you without crying, for instance, so it wasn’t an every-day thing to hear. As her child, you knew she loved you, but she just couldn’t speak it easily. She also rarely talked about intensely personal things. She did so through her songs—most from the Big Band Era. Not only could she play by ear, but she would get into a trance-like state and would free-associate by playing one song with a meaning that led perfectly into another that carried that meaning a bit further until she seemed to come to closure or have had a complete conversation. I so wish I had recorded some of her “sessions.”

When she was going through her divorce and I had taken a bit of time off college to stay with her, I felt privileged to listen to her play. Some evenings after work I would tiptoe into the house if I heard the piano so she wouldn’t stop. She might play for 30 minutes and had no idea I was there. She played dramatically with an emotion that you’d never see her display anywhere else. I could even hear her nails clicking the keys she was moving so fast. I’d sit in my old room upstairs and listen as she played old musicals that might lead into a Tommy Dorsey tune and then surprisingly to a pop melody of Lionel Richie‘s, as long as they held a key element of a similar message. Anything she heard on the radio, she could play perfectly, as she only needed to hold the melody in her head to translate it to the keys. She didn’t like to “perform” and rarely played for others. I was therefore, really shocked when she played piano at my wedding. Every song had “baby” in the title (as I’m the youngest of her four children). I don’t recall all of them, but “Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby” and “Take Good Care of My Baby” and Dorsey’s “You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby” were some of them. I don’t think anyone, outside of family, knew how emotional it was for her to play these songs in front of a crowd and the photographer caught her shy feelings of love perfectly. I was touched beyond words.

As Alzheimer’s grips your loved one, you sit by helplessly as they slip away. When living in London, I flew back each summer between 2005 and 2008 for a few weeks or longer each visit. I’d notice that she had a harder time with the piano by 2007, but would continue to play. Although sometimes, she’d have a harder time with verbal conversation and would still play perfectly. Alzheimer’s is funny that way. By the time I was really going through the ringer with my husband, my mom was in the moderately severe stages. She got easily upset and I hid the fact that I was going through Hell from her. Even though she might not remember specifics the next day, I knew she was a sponge and would absorb my sadness and would worry about me every time my name was mentioned. Somehow that worry would carry over. She might not know why she was worried, or couldn’t remember my soon-to-be ex-husband‘s name, but I only wanted to bring her happiness when I visited. I swore my siblings to go along with me and not talk about my separation with her. Well, in July 2010, I was far from happy. It was incredibly hard to visit and pretend everything was ok. I had my then one and a half year old with me, who was sick a lot and had a hard time sleeping. I was barely 100 lbs from grief. My soon-to-be ex had left me for another woman in September of 2009, less than a year after we had moved back to the States when I was pregnant. He was back and forth with his emotions and his behavior was erratic when he was back from Europe. But at this point, I’d been a single mom for almost a year. I had just dropped the older son with relatives in Tennessee for a camp before coming home. I don’t want to use this blog to post sorted details, but suffice it to say, I’d been through a year with broken promises and many attempts to reconcile, and I was now trying my hardest not to show any of this mess to my fading mother. Southerners can be excellent actresses—and I’m the queen of being able to ‘fake it till you make it’ for the most part—but this was going to take an amazing feat. I pulled it off, remarkably, for most of the week spent on walks with the dog or visits with the neighbors or in her garden. One evening, however, Jamesy just would NOT sleep. He cried most of the night and I was at breaking point. My mom came down the stairs at 3 a.m. to the room where we were. She was having a remarkably lucid moment. The kind of moment that loved ones pray for. For a year I knew I had angels helping me survive and I guess one came on this trip too. As mentioned, I didn’t tell mom anything about what was going on in my personal life. She adored my ex and I didn’t want to give her one more heartbreak. But she saw I had been crying and she calmly took Jamesy’s hand. They walked into the living room and she played this song. It’s not the best performance of hers, but out of her entire repertoire, she chose: “On the Sunny Side of the Street.”  (For those of you who aren’t well-versed in 1930’s Broadway tunes, it was also performed by Judy Garland, Benny Goodman (one of Mom’s favorites) and Louis Armstrong.

I’m convinced that she was trying to help me with Jamesy and send me a message of comfort at the same time. Somehow, she was able to break free from the entangled plaques crippling her mind and play once again. It was a miracle that I caught it on tape as I never seem to have the camera at the right time. I’m so thankful for this moment as I haven’t seen her this lucid again. Happy Mother’s Day, Annie. And yes, I’m finally finding my way to the sunny side of the street. I wish you were here with me, but I know that you are, somehow, in spirit.

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A Mother’s Legacy: Staying On The Brink

Mom and William, one week old, November 2001

“I want PIE!” Jamesy yells at me this morning. He has already climbed onto the second shelf of the pantry, which he knows he isn’t allowed to do.

“Well, I didn’t make the pie, and besides, that’s not a breakfast food, is it? Lets get down from there,” I reply calmly, trying to mask the tension that is rising like bile in my throat. I look at my angelic, chubby three-year-old with star-lit, midnight blue eyes and tousled blond hair. I know what is coming next—what has been happening in our house for months now.

‘NOOOO!!!!” he wails like a super sonic boom and then hurls a kitchen timer against the wall.

I take a deep breath and  pick up his squirming body. “Ok, time out buddy.”

His legs kick my calf. Hard. A zinger of pain flashes up to my kneecap and down to my swollen achilles’ heel. Why did I forget to put that damn boot back on? I think as I grimace with pain. Almost three weeks ago I tore a tendon in my left calf, so chasing after my three-year-old has now become an Olympic endeavor. I manage to strap him into his time-out chair—which is my second car seat. As I walk to pick up the now broken kitchen timer, he kicks his seat over, landing with a thud. His head is now on the floor, his feet raised above him in a sitting position. The crazy guy laughs, looks at me victoriously, and then starts screaming again.

“I HATE TIME OUT!!!” he screams.

William and I just shrug and sit down to eat our breakfast. We have gone through this scenario many times since we took the advice of Jamesy’s teacher who recommended that I place a car seat in my kitchen and strap him into it for a time out each time he throws things, yells, hits, climbs the pantry walls, bites, etc. Ignoring him, threatening with a consequence, taking away toys, and dare I admit, even a spanking, all don’t work on my little guy. Putting him in time out didn’t work before because he just refused to stay seated. Strapping him into time out is helping, believe it or not. It’s just taking an extraordinarily long time. I have a very stubborn three-year-old who hates to hear the word No or not be able to do what he wants to do. Like most I guess, but his older brother was never this ballsy or stubborn. Eventually, he stopped these shenanigans.  Plus, I didn’t have William and Jamesy close together in age. William is 10, James 3. I can’t imagine surviving life as a single mom with an insanely stubborn James and a brother only one or two years older. Seriously, with an ex in Europe and no family help, I might have ended up in Betty Ford or some mental facility.

Today, when I was taking James to school, I thought about my mom. You may be wondering what my son’s behavior, and how the scene I just described to you, has anything to do with a Mother’s Legacy. Well, a lot actually. My mother had four children and a husband who would work three-day shifts at the hospital. Back then, three-day-shifts were not frowned upon like they are today. She was virtually a single mom in Boston with my brother 3 and two sisters ages 2 and 1. They were all still in diapers!!

“Well, I just didn’t know any better,” my mom said to me 10 years ago when she visited me after I gave birth to William. “I mean, back then, you didn’t expect your husband to help you. You didn’t complain either. And I just thought it was fun,” she laughed. I clearly didn’t believe her last statement.

When she said this to me, I was in the throws of repeated sitz baths for a class 4 tear, (men reading this, DON’T ASK), sore nipples, engorged breasts verging on infection since I couldn’t get the milk to come in properly, and hormones raging to the point where at certain moments I literally wanted to die. Exhaustion, hormones, whatever it was, I realized that what I was feeling was akin to what clinical depression must feel like. Having three kids one right after another, and than four years later her oops child, (which I am), my mom must have always been on the brink of despair. But I don’t remember seeing her succumb to it, not over raising children anyway. Maybe she was just too busy.

Mom and William, three months.

Over the next two years after William’s birth, she graced me with her stories. But her stories about raising three babies were what inspired me most. She didn’t know why I was in shock, but clearly, she loves babies and has a higher threshold for stress, than I do. Her stories gave me strength, however. Luckily for me, once my breast milk came in with earnest and I could breast feed around the clock, my cloud of depression lifted. I listened to her stories and began to think I can do this.

“Every Sunday I called my mom and we’d talk about politics. I loved our Sunday calls,” my mom told me 10 years ago.  “Well, this one Sunday, I’ll never forget it. Your father was at the hospital and I looked around as I spoke with NiNi (her mother) and I saw your sister (and with her next description, I knew exactly which sister it was) climbing up the curtain rod! I started to go for her, but then I heard something and looked out back and your other sister was pushing down your brother from his bicycle. Well, I’m still on the phone, but as I go to your brother, I turn around and look back and I see your sister now putting a screw in her mouth!” Amazingly, the whole time she’s telling me this story, she is smiling. What lesson did she learn? Not to decorate, or put up curtains partially, and then take a phone call when you have three children. I, on the other hand, was completely horrified. I had my one and only baby suckling at my breast and began to think I will never, ever, have another child.

“Well, I laughed and laughed about that. Of course, I had to get the screw out of her mouth first!” my mom said. Over the years as her Alzheimer’s began to take hold, she repeated that story to me over and over again.

Mom and William, 2 years.

It was as if she knew that I’d need to remember it too. That I would need to pull it out of a file in the back of my mind to remind myself that this craziness is what it’s all about. We’re all pushed to the brink when raising children. But it’s how we handle it and carry through that matters.

Three years ago I was visiting my mother. She was still at home then, although we had assistants to help her. It was evening, and she had fallen asleep with her TV on. I went in to shut it off. She raised up and pointed to the hall light.

“I finally put a cover on it. Like it?” she asked me. I turned to look at the hall light and noticed a new sconce. “Oh. Wow. Yes, we finally have one.”

“I know, I never replaced the old one because I was so ashamed,” she said to me, clear as day.

When I asked her what she was talking about, she replied, “Well, one day, when you four were up to something. I can’t recall really, but one of your sisters was yelling and your brother was doing something, I don’t remember what, but I got so mad, I actually threw my shoe up the stairs and it hit the hall light. I never did replace it (the sconce) because I wanted to look at that ugly bulb to remember how stupid I was. I didn’t want to lose my temper like that ever again.”

I swallowed hard and held her hand. “It’s ok mom.”

“Oh, it’s silly. I should have known better. Don’t do that kind of thing, ok?”

The next morning, when I told her I enjoyed our talk she replied, “Oh? What talk? Didn’t you just get here?”

Well, call it Divine intervention, but I know we did have a talk and I’m so grateful—that even though she didn’t remember it—I always will. And I thought about her advice today after Jamesy threw his smoothie across the car and it landed with a SPLAT across the entire backseat. Sigh. I’m clearly on the brink too. But I’m going to be brave and stand on the edge and take a deep breath. I may have to dig in my heels and brace myself or a long stay. But my little guy will grow up eventually, right? And if I make it through with my sanity in check, just think about the stories I’ll be able to embarrass him with!

Spring Resolutions

Photo by Chaz James

Easter, like Spring in general, is a time I find myself reflecting on what’s important in my life. Christians obviously are celebrating Christ‘s rebirth; his sacrifice; his transformation; his rising. Clearly, being a Christian isn’t a prerequisite for contemplating your own potential for change and renewal. We really have these opportunities every day don’t we? But at this time of year, especially, I take stock. I find myself asking if I am living each day with the intentions and goals that I hold dear? Sure, I have big aspirations: such as growing this blog and working on another book. But I find the day-to-day goals to live in truth and kindness to be more important to those I love most. Do my boys feel loved unconditionally? Am I in balance as a single mom: juggling life, work, relationships, health, etc.?? Can I manage my three-year-old’s insane, daily temper tantrums with grace and a cool head? Is it possible to navigate divorce proceedings and negotiations with fairness and calm? And, more importantly, can I focus on love, gratitude and light—while letting go of my ego, bitterness and disappointments?

One the best ways to achieve these goals is to try to live in the moment and more consciously. Taking time to appreciate what is beautiful and inspirational is crucial—especially for sleep-deprived, struggling single parents. So, for you, (and for me) I am posting some recent photos that I took when on drives in Southern California. To get my little guy to nap, I still drive. I put on my favorite tunes, grab a mocha, and drive to somewhere with a vista. The views soothe my soul. I am energized when I go to these places and by the time I arrive, my baby has slept and can then get out and wander around a bit. Life is good again. Well, life is good in general, don’t you think? Happy Spring my friends. And I hope you enjoy my favorite vistas. L. x

Photo by: Laura Roe Stevens (All Rights Reserved). 

I took this picture when I was extremely sleep-deprived and a bit depressed last month. My youngest had not been sleeping well and had been fighting yet another chest infection and asthma. It had been raining with high winds for two days. We were cooped up all weekend. I put my three-year-old in his car seat and drove south to Palos Verdes. As I drove, the high winds started to calm a bit, the rain stopped, and the clouds lifted. Jamesy fell asleep and I pulled over to take this amazing picture looking north towards Santa Monica and Malibu. By the time I got back into the car, my spirits had lifted and I smiled looking at my angelic boy, who was still sleeping soundly.

Photo by: Laura Roe Stevens (All Rights Reserved.)

This is a picture I took after driving to Malibu one Sunday last month to get my youngest to nap. William and I chatted, sang songs and then decided to go to a different canyon in north Malibu than we normally do. After we arrived, Jamesy was refreshed from his nap and we had a fun hike in the bizarre heat. It had risen to 90 degrees, so we kept close to the trees for shade. I took several pictures of the boys, and then looked up and was fascinated by the simple beauty of the old trees. Their elegant, wise, arthritic branches seemed to say to me: “Keep reaching. Keep going. Keep striving to find the light.”

Photo by: Laura Roe Stevens (All Rights Reserved.)

Driving back from Santa Barbara last February, I felt compelled to pull to this exact spot on the side of the highway. With the boys still snapped in the car, I pulled to a safe spot on the side of the road and stepped out, taking a picture of this view. Once I got home and uploaded the picture, I noticed the cross on the hill overlooking the Pacific. It made me think that this was a very special location for some family who may have lost someone. Or perhaps someone wanted to be buried here or remembered here. We all find our own places of worship don’t we? There really are little slices of Heaven on Earth—if we open our eyes to them.

Grab Your Zen

SO … I’m just going to start off this post saying that I haven’t always believed that you could just choose to be happy. I mean, when you’re dealt some crappy cards, maybe you can muster a poker face and “fake it till you make it”, but really, how can you just choose to be happy? Well, it might start with baby steps that involve taking care of ourselves. If you’re a single mom who doesn’t get much relief or family help, like I am, it can seem especially hard to do. But really, it can begin with one commitment. Even if you have to force fitting it into your day, do it. You’ll be on your way to seizing your happiness. Here’s what it looks like with me on an especially chaotic day, such as today. (And I’m sure many of you single moms know exactly what kind of day this is.)

6:10 a.m. Three-year-old wakes me up by hitting the cat when crawling in bed, then crying because “I don’t want the sun to come up!” To this I reply, “Ok, so go back to sleep. Pleeeassee.”  “NO!!”

6:20 a.m. – 7:45 a.m. Re-edit and then re-print oldest son’s biggest report of the year, while keeping boys from killing one another as they fight over who gets to pull paper out of the printer. Breakfast, feed cat, feed fish, etc.

7:50 a.m. – 8:15 a.m. Yell at boys to get dressed, brush teeth, change a huge poopy diaper (Is there a potty-training fairy out there??), rush to the car. At school, realize oldest son has report, but doesn’t have violin for practice.

8:15 a.m. – 8:30 a.m. Try to calm down 3-year-old who is now screaming because big brother didn’t kiss him goodbye. Race in to get violin. Get back to car (oh, still wearing jammy top with stretch pants) and smell more poop. Get baby out of car seat, change diaper, yet again, put him back in. More screaming over not being able to buckle the seat, then go to school to deliver violin. Then realize that I owe someone an edit of a big proposal, so we rush back home.

8:30 a.m. – 9:15 a.m. Edit proposal with bullets for changes, send emails to editors, cancel appointment with accountant, wash face, freshen up. As I start to go to the car, remember the f***ing valentines! Go back up with the youngest to put together 15 Buzz Lightyear valentines for his party.

9:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. Mommy and Me class with youngest. Dance, sing, make valentines crafts, give away valentines … and almost go postal on a special needs child from a different class who hits my son over and over again on the playground. Not one teacher intervened, so after he tried to bang my son’s head into a play structure, I lean in and say, “NO. You don’t hit. You’ve lost your playtime” and walk my son over to the other side of the playground. As I play with Jamesy, I see this kid hit at least 5 more kids and no one stopped him. I’m starting to wonder about their discipline strategies. Go back in for circle time, listen to some younger moms babble about botox and leave early….For me.

11:30 a.m. – 12 p.m. I race to take Jamesy to daycare and run like mad to make a community yoga class. While I’m racing to get there, I actually feel a twinge of guilt for taking the time out. But the minute I put my mat down and see my smiling instructor, I instantly know I’ve done the right thing. (Insert wind chime, Hindi music here.) The topic for the class: Choosing Happiness. How marvelous. We smiled through the difficult poses and it seemed a metaphor for my life. Instead of ruminating about a proposal from an attorney, or the surmounting work with demands from the kiddos and my own deadlines, or the fact I haven’t slept-in or had a break in a loong time … I took a time out. For one hour, I sweat, I breathed deeply and tried to hold insane poses. During meditation I focussed on lightness, happiness, and letting anger, stress, anxiety, jealousy and other ego-centric issues holding me down, lift up in a balloon and sail away. Leaving that class I was at peace and ready to race on with the rest of my madness:

1:30 p.m. Pick up oldest from school. Race to the high school for his honors strings performance rehearsal that I’m helping to coordinate.

2 p.m. – 4 p.m. – Assist the strings teacher with all the children, which included kids from five elementary schools, one middle school and the high school. The music is overwhelming. (I’m so proud of my son for making this honor’s orchestra. I found myself in tears at the back of the performance hall—overwhelmed with pride and gratitude.)

4 p.m. – Race with son to find white shoes for his orchestra performance uniform. (It’s harder than you’d think!) Buy more Sudafed for the nagging allergies.

5 p.m. – 8 p.m. Pick up youngest from school. Race home to start dinner and oversee math homework with oldest, while trying to keep youngest entertained. (Oi! Math is getting harder.) Struggle to get meatballs finished before both boys nosh their appetite away. Take picture of 3-year-old eating a huge meatball and send it to my godsend of a friend. Email a Syrian friend and former London classmate of my oldest son’s to see how his family is doing. (Long discussion ensues about Syria, The Middle East, democracy, etc. with oldest son.)

8 p.m. – 9 p.m. Bath, (resulting in water fight soaking all towels and bathroom floor with youngest peeing on oldest…I know…) books, teeth brushed, thankful lists said, and more water, before bed. (Why do kids have to have more water just after they get under their covers??)

9 p.m. – 10 p.m. Gently try to get youngest to fall asleep. (STILL having sleep issues.)

10:15 p.m. – 11:30 p.m. Clean up kitchen, do two loads of laundry, send an editor two pitches as promised, wash face … and … write this.

Why, you might ask, am I venturing to write this when I’m obviously sleep-deprived?? Because it’s a reminder to me (and perhaps to some of you too) that even when you are overwhelmed with responsibilities—take a moment for yourself. Doing so allows you to continue with this lovely chaos that remarkably means the world to your children. It’s essential for our health and mental sanity. It helps us be better parents.

And, over time, it might just help you to believe that you can, in fact, choose happiness. What do you think? Is happiness a choice? Maybe it is something you have to seize. Perhaps happiness is something that us single moms have to realize involves putting ourselves on the mounting To-Do list. We deserve a moment to take care of ourselves because our work is never, really done. I challenge all of you single parents out there to force yourself to take one hour a day, three days a week, for some exercise such as yoga. Get back to me and let me know how it goes. And, for those on a tight budget, check out community classes at your local studio as they’re much cheaper and usually for beginners.

Nameste, y’all.

Do Hand-offs Ever Get Easier?

Does it ever get easier to say goodbye to your children? As a single mom who hasn’t had a week off from both her cherubs in over a year, I should have danced a little jig tonight. Instead, I found myself gutted so deeply that words can hardly convey how I felt. Do any of you get this too? If so, HOW do you deal with it??

I’ve been raising these two boys solo for two and a half years. If you follow my blog, you know that my ex lives in London, and we live in Los Angeles. He does visit, but typically flies in and will have them for an overnite or two at a local hotel. And usually during that time I’ll have heard from them, or met them on the soccer field, with a weird feeling of relief. Thanksgiving 2010 and 2009 I flew both boys solo to London—which is nuts!! I was so exhausted from flying there by myself and returning solo with all the bags, stroller, gear, etc. that any time off I had in Europe was hardly enjoyable. I should be thrilled that my ex flew into Los Angeles and is flying them both to Tennessee to see his family this season. All I had to do was pack the bags, buy warm, winter clothes for them, and drive them to his hotel by the airport. That is so much easier than flying solo and doing a hand-off after hours of screaming on an airplane with a sore back to boot!

So why was tonight just as hard as last year?!

I know I need the break. Any sane person would need time off. I haven’t had a good night’s sleep in months. My house is a wreck. I am in desperate need for yoga classes and meditation. I need to spend some quality time with the man in my life. I’m looking forward to all of that! But somehow, I found myself filled with the deepest form of melancholy tonight.

My sweet 10-year-old started to cry as I said goodbye. He turned his head away from me and choked up. Somehow I became brave enough to fight my tears, hug him, and say how much fun he was going to have and how excited all the family in Tennessee is to see him. (I so desperately don’t want to become the pathetic parent whose children constantly worry about when they are away. I want them to have fun and to see that mom is okay and that mom takes care of herself and loves them.) So, I held it together until they walked into the hotel.

I sat in my car for a few minutes in front of the airport hotel. My ex and my older son had already walked out of my sight and I sat there frozen watching my little three-year-old. He was wearing the candy-cane, red and white sweater I bought him, and was struggling with a red carry-on suit case in the hotel lobby. Both his dad and older brother had walked ahead and he fumbled and dropped the case and fumbled again and started to cry. He was still close to the automatic lobby doors of the hotel and I almost ran in to pick up the suitcase and help him steady himself, but something told me to stay put. I just sat mesmerized by the scene, praying that the suitcase would right itself and that he could run ahead and catch up with the others. He finally got the case up and began running (likely screaming too) ahead.

I sighed with relief and then the tears started to flow. Watching him with the suitcase seemed like a metaphor for the dynamic of the relationship between the three of them. My older son and his dad are much closer since they once lived together. So he misses his dad and begins to talk like a chatter-box-cottage (his former nickname at his school in London) with his father the minute he sees him. The two get caught up and little Jamesy has to fight to catch up and butt in. Then, of course, like all two- and three-year-olds will do, he makes sure that they all hear him and my older son gets frustrated with his little brother’s antics as he can no longer get a word in. My baby really doesn’t know his dad very well at all, as he’s been with me almost all the time since he was eight months old and before that his dad was gone two weeks a month anyway. I’m proud that he doesn’t shy away and fights to be heard and seems to hold not one grudge. He is love incarnate and it’s really a gift for my ex right now. Who knows what the future of their relationship will hold?

They’ll have to figure out their own way when they are together. I’m no longer a part of their relationship and I can no longer play referee or try to help. They have their own dynamic, separate from me. And the woman my husband left me for is still in the picture. She’ll be with them this trip and who knows how she’ll behave or how they’ll get along. But again, it’s about letting go of what I can’t control, right?

I guess the emotions trickled up and surprised me tonight as we are so close to finally getting our divorce. Finality always brings back memories and past dreams doesn’t it? I don’t want to go back, and I know my life will be richer and I am stronger because of all this too. But emotions have a way of bubbling up when you least expect them. And for a 100-lb-woman, I have an insane momma-bear mentality. I will do ANYTHING to protect my cubs. So watching them walk away without me, well, lets just say it is one of the hardest things I’ll ever do. I just can’t fathom why anyone would ever want to walk away from them.

Earlier tonight I had packed up most of my son’s infant clothes for my ex to give to his sister, who is expecting in February. I’m still close to her and wanted to pass along the clothes as she, like me, didn’t think she’d have a second baby. She also has a 10-year-old and gave away all of her infant items as I had done. As I was packing up the newborn onesies, sleepers, hats, blankets and tiny socks…I began to feel a pit of sadness open up. Sometimes it feels like I’ve been on my own for a century, and then I see these items and realize that just three and a half years ago I was filled with hope and determination to make sure this miracle baby came into the world safely. I threw up almost every day of my pregnancy with Jamesy when in London and then got chicken pox the week we moved back to the States. I needed a specialist and was put on strict bedrest for two months. While I was on meds to stop the contractions, I just focussed on a happy transition for us all and having a healthy baby. I was filled with hope—but isn’t that how all expecting moms are? And after he was born, with oxytocin pulsing through my veins as I breastfed, I was just filled with love for this beautiful creature. Oxytocin is an amazing hormone that can trigger labor, block pain when a woman goes into labor suddenly (I wrote about this in FitPregnancy), help you bond with your baby and stay positive when you need to most. I researched this fascinating hormone when writing the weekly pregnancy calendar for DivineCaroline where I was the parenting editor. And this remarkable hormone is also released when you orgasm or even just touch, heightening you’re ‘I’m in Love’ feeling. (Read this article.) So you can see, I was in love with family and my new baby while my husband was filled with dread and longing for his former life in London, working at a hip company with young folks, and traveling nonstop.

Well, I don’t know how I didn’t see it coming. I chock it up to breast-feeding and complete denial. But, hey, I’m the lucky one. I can honestly say I’m no longer bitter. And you know what? Somehow,  remarkably, I’m still filled with hope.

Isn’t that amazing?

Happy New Year lovely friends! x

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.