The Summer List.

As always, I’m already a little drunk on summer and excited about the next couple months of long days and sweaty adventures around this city. We’ve already been to the splash pad close to ten times, including every night last weekend. These sun drenched days and big smiles are good for my soul. A lot of this transition from 1 to 2 has been really hard on me, but I told James that I feel so much better and collected when we are out and about. No matter how insane it is getting out the door, the second we start exploring this city, I feel confident and happy again.

I’m leaning in to the fact that Etta is a schedule-less potted plant newborn, and I’m refusing to stay home to get her on a nap schedule, opting instead to have her nap on the go so Henry and I can be out and about. I didn’t feel this freedom the first time around, but now I know- good sleep and schedules will come. But for these months- we are prioritizing being out. In addition to all our normal summer activities and time with friends, I’m trying to make some goals for what we want to do and accomplish this summer.


Here’s what’s on our list for this summer:

Spend less time on my phone around the kids. I read this article and was really convicted that my vigilance over Henry’s screen time needs to impact how much he sees of my own.

Get daily toddler HIIT workouts in with Henry, as these really do help us get moving in our tiny space and enjoy the rest of our day so much more.

Hit the lavender farms (or this one!) and the sunflower fields.

A beach trip! I would love to make it all the way to the actual ocean, but I’m being realistic and thinking the Chesapeake might be better. Probably here, unless I find someone with a nice beach house who wants us to invade for the day.

Pick something. Probably blackberries here following the sunflowers, just like last year.

Find a creek for Henry to play in. Anyone in the DC area have a lead on a nice shady creek with a shallow creek for toddlers who love hurling rocks and getting muddy?

Check out this aviation museum with planes for Henry to sit in.

Make the rounds of our favorite splash pads, like Navy Yard and the Wharf and I want to check out this one.

Read books. With my dissertation behind me, and lots of nursing before me, I’m trying to actually read some fun books. Started this recently and I’m excited about it.

We usually hit the free ward days at the National Building Museum summer exhibit, but we are sadly out of town on our day this year. Boo! But check out yours here if you are local! We loved the Beach a couple years back and the Hive last year.

What are you all up to this summer? And DC area people with fun activities or festivals that I missed?

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Another list of random things.

First things first:Summer2018-2

THIS BABY. She is the best. And once we finally gave her a bath, she also assumed the fluffy hair of a baby bunny so just when I think she couldn’t get any better, she does! But good or not, this newborn stage still does not at all come naturally or easy to me, hence the lack of more substantial blog posts lately.

Now then- some random things worth noting.

A friend brought this baked ziti to Bible study recently* and I cannot emphasize enough how mind-blowingly good it was. Baked ziti takes me back to middle school days spent at the mall and leisurely lunches at Sbarro, and it is one of my favs, but this one elevates it to sinfully good. Do not flinch at that 1.5 lbs of mozzarella- just do it. (*By that I mean “three months ago” but I made a mental note to share it and am just now doing so.)

And on another cheesy pasta front, I made this last month (as I am nottttttt cooking again any time in the foreseeable future and living that people-bringing-covered-dishes life) for a fast summer lunch and it was everything I want in an easy pasta dish. I even cheated and didn’t string the sugar snap peas and it was totally fine.

Ok, fine- one more recent pasta win. Meatballs in the oven are my new favorite easy hack. I used lots more spinach than called for and it was a huge hit.

This will not be my finest swimsuit summer, but if I was looking to add one – I love this one.

I’ve been on an intense sort-and-purge mission to make up for the fact that we didn’t move pre-baby and are thus trying to carve out more space in our apartment. Because if you build enough shelves and toss enough things, it’s basically another bedroom right? (Wrong.) But I still loved this article about the anorexic homes the society and social media especially are pushing on us.

I wrote about our TV time extremism recently and many people happily informed me that I would cave on this as life gets harder. Maybe that’s true. But I hope to always be intentional about boundaries, and this article had some great information and realistic pointers.

I have always loved Beth Moore, and I really, Really, REALLY loved her bold words recently. The Church needs more such women.

But on a somber note, this article was a chilling and informative reminder of what parents can do to inadvertently make their children easy targets for terrible people. It made me sick reading it, and also made me aware of the things we do without even thinking about it that could open our children to abuse.

And to close, Henry, who has taken to requesting to have his photo taken and then posing like this far longer than necessary. He’s posing with the Blue Track, a game changer for small space play. Summer2018-4

Happy weekend! Happy Monday! It’s Tuesday and I’m finally getting to posting this- carry on.

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This is 2.

Henry turned 2 two weeks ago. Toddlers are great because they have such a low threshold for enjoyment. When we talked about what to do for his birthday, I was emphatic that we not do anything requiring much work. We weren’t sure when baby girl would show up, but I was sure that I would feel very disinterested in anything involving lots of work in those final weeks of pregnancy. Instead, we filled the day with the things that our little boy loves.SPring2018-51Like a breakfast date at the Pretzel Bakery! If you follow on Instagram, you know that we go here a lot. It was a default play space during the winter, and most of the weekday employees know Henry by now. They have chased him when he escaped and I was too pregnant to run after him, doled out band-aids when I was lacking, and had so much patience with the many messes he has created. One morning recently, I brought Henry in bed to snuggle when he woke early. He did so for a little while and then rolled to face me, put his hands on either side of my face, leaned in close, and firmly whispered, “Pretzel Slider… later.” What can I say- we are raising him well. SPring2018-55SPring2018-59We decided to invite a bunch of friends to join us in the park for donuts and coffee- no decorations, no games, no fuss. But my SIL did pick up these yellow balloons, because Henry is obsessed with “lellow boons.” To be fair, he calls all balloons yellow, and he also examined my belly one morning and declared it too, a “lellow boon.”SPring2018-61SPring2018-62SPring2018-63This is probably my favorite picture of my son. He is so happy here, and I’m not surprised, because he is surrounded by everything he loves most. He is outside, free in the park where we run daily. He has all his family around him, and his friends. This kid loves his friends, asks for them daily and lives for play dates with his posse. He loves singing, and frequently sings a mashup of all the songs he knows that goes, “Holy holy, shake your booty! AMAZING grace, Make wayyyyyyy, Happy birthday!!!” And he has treats, donuts. James recently asked Henry what he does with Mommy while Daddy is at work and Henry calmly answered that we “Go Target, eat donuts,” which did happen to be the truth that day. Even though we offer mostly healthy food at home, I love sharing a treat out in the city with my boy. I love getting to split something with him and see his face light up when I say we are going to get a treat. SPring2018-65SPring2018-66SPring2018-68SPring2018-71With his posse of uncles and aunt- this kid is beyond lucky that he has spent two years around extended family. My brother and his wife are moving this summer, and Henry will be saddest of all. Anytime he sees a car around town that looks like theirs, he gleefully informs me, “Dat’s Tante Wuthie’s car!!!” and he lives to go to their house and play with the “music” (ukulele) and suitcases that he knows lives there. As for James’s brother, Philip recently joined us at the park on one of those scooters you can rent anywhere around town. Henry has not stopped talking about, nor has he stopped angrily yelling at anyone else he sees around town on one that, “DAT’S UNCLE PHILIP’S SCOOTER!!!” Property rights are a top passion right now, and nothing disturbs our type A child like seeing someone in possession of something not theirs. This inevitably leads to the sorts of sharing issues and tantrums that we all associate with toddlers, but I also love it, love watching him connect objects and people in his world. SPring2018-72SPring2018-74I see a Walt Whitman quote so often on romantic cards or cute prints: “We were together, I forget the rest.” Every time I see it, I think of these past 2 years with Henry, these past 2 years where the blessing of his demanding nature and my flexible schedule means that my son and I have been together so much. We have taken on this city as a team, explored and adventured in every weather and circumstance. We have cried so much, laughed so much, and gone through approximately 2 million wet wipes. We have learned what it means to be a parent and a child and we have been together. He won’t remember much else of these early years, but I want him to remember that. He won’t remember all our mornings spent scooting to the Pretzel Bakery, the days where we rode the metro around the city just to stay warm, the times that we twirled under the low hanging pines at the park and yelled “TREEEEE FORTTTTT!” and laughed. He won’t remember how I climbed into his crib after every nap to snuggle until I got too pregnant or how I wore him in the sling way past the weight when it was doable to do so. But I hope he remembers that we were together, always together.

As for me, I don’t want to forget the rest of what 2 is for us. The way he has used a case of San Pellegrino as a “special seat” beside his crib for 8 months, only to replace it with a case of La Croix when we finally drank it. The way he rides his scooter with a boldness and dexterity that shocks people and is obsessed with his R2D2 helmet. The wallet we gave him for his birthday that he carries in his pocket and naps with, stocked with old loyalty cards. He thinks it looks like James’ wallet and that is all he wants. His obsession with luggage and emergency vehicles and escalators. His attempts at praying, which include “Thank you father” and then a list of everything from us, to the park. His love of our routines, and his insane knowledge of getting around Capitol Hill. The way we begs every day to go to work with James, mostly because he wants to ride the bus. His love of dancing and the way that, at the church nursery when other kids calmly sit and sing, he hurls his entire body all over during song time. His enthusiasm about helping with “laundries” and his zeal over cleaning floors. The way that he still likes to lay against my chest and wrap his arms around my neck when I hold him before naps. The way he likes to play with the house keys and walk out of the apartment yelling “Bye- see you later!” only to sit on the bottom step of the next flight of stairs and invite me to sit next to him. The way that his extroverted self sometimes crashes and he asks to sit in his crib with his toolbox, “just a couple minutes,” so he can regroup as he faux drills and nails and measures in silence. This is 2.

The night of his birthday, I insisted on putting him to bed though James usually does it. I sang extra long and held him, but instead of it calming him down, it ended in uproarious laughter as he kept on saying something and dying laughing, which made me laugh, and the cycle continued. We snuggled and laughed for so long, before I finally laid him down and he told me he loved me “so much!” I cried in the darkness, thankful for two years of calling that boy mine. I didn’t know when I put him down that I wouldn’t see him for 48 hours, that we would leave in the wee hours of the morning to head to the hospital. I didn’t know that the weeks that followed would be so hard, not because a newborn is hard or my body was sore, but because I would watch my wonderful little boy struggle in seeing his world shift. I didn’t know that the days following his perfect birthday would be full of so much imperfect behavior and anger and difficulty as he tried to find footing in our new family pattern. It’s normal, I know, this behavioral lapse when a new sibling comes home. And honestly, I get it. Henry, while excited for “my Etta,” is mourning the end of what was, of our dynamic duo. I get it, because I mourn it too, all while loving our new family of four.

So this is 2. All the excitement and wonder and hilarity and difficulty all at once. The past 2 years have, without a doubt, been the happiest of my life. Here’s to many more, and the kid who has made them so good.


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Interrupting all these reflective posts on family culture for a regular old life update post, as May was a big month for our family. May5I tend to be leery about ushering in new seasons before we are fully into them. That results in premature excitement on warm days in February and cool days in September, only to be demoralized when it snows in March and scorches in October – which is always does in DC. But I have been crushing on summer hard since the first warm day in May. We survived winter, and I am really proud of our resilience in getting out every day in frigid weather followed by endless spring rain. But I am ready to thrive, the type of thriving that summer days bring. I know it gets so hot and humid, but I live for those long days, endless park and splash pad visits, and adventures around this swamp of a city. We started seeing those days this month, and had our inaugural splash pad visit with friends right before Memorial Day. Summer- we are so, so, so ready for you.May

Of course, my love of hotter days was tempered a little by being a thousand months pregnant. I surpassed my final weight with Henry at around 36 weeks with baby 2 and every day in May brought more physical discomfort and less sleep. People who tell pregnant women to “sleep now before the baby comes!” have obviously never been in the final sleepless throes of pregnancy and deserve every punch to the face that said hormonal and exhausted women restrain. But in spite of daily misery, there were lots of little joys in this last month. James and I made sure to sneak in some dates, I indulged in lots of pampering (haircut! pedicure! optimistically purchasing some new clothes that will most likely still not fit almost of the summer!) and a hearty dose of nesting (cleaned out the fridge! vacuumed out the car! washed my curtains! hired someone to deep clean my house for the first time ever!). May2

In the midst of it all, I graduated from my doctoral program. This past year has been so big both professionally, with finishing and defending my dissertation, and personally, with this endless and frequently miserable pregnancy, that I feel neither realm has gotten to have all the attention it deserved. Graduation seemed an afterthought. But then it finally rolled around, and I donned a robe that made me look like a sinister Catholic Cardinal from a Renaissance period drama, as well as a hat that made me look like Thomas Cromwell from Wolf Hall (yes, a strange and contradictory blend of religious regalia, I know), it did feel as monuments as it is. Walking across that stage and hearing Henry yell “YAY MOMMY!” out in the crowd made me so proud that graduate school has been a part of our family’s story the past 7 years. Graduation

And then May ended in the very best of all possible ways. We celebrated Henry’s birthday the Saturday before Memorial Day, in a morning spent eating donuts in the park with our friends before spending the rest of the day in some cleaning and baby prep interspersed with reflections and memories from Henry’s first two years. We went to bed tired and happy, even if physically I felt even more miserable than usual. But the night was short, as I was up with strange pain by 2:30 am and we headed to the hospital not too long after. By a little after 10, 2 weeks and 2 days early and almost sharing a birthday with her brother, she was here. Processed with VSCO with a6 presetMarietta Elizabeth. A first name from my grandmother and a middle name shared by her grandmother and aunt. May she grow into this amazing heritage. Our Etta, coming into this world so calmly and sweetly that I am forgiving the 37 weeks and 5 days of pain, fear, and difficulty that preceded her. Etta, the perfect end to May and perfect beginning to a new stage of life for our family. May4

PS: Sharing these pictures also made me very aware that Henry apparently wears that red striped shirt a lot. That capsule toddler wardrobe people- repeat alllllll the clothes till the fall apart.

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Sleep training: This is what we did.

Part 1 here!

Processed with VSCO with a6 presetSometime recently James and I were trying to remember how we got here, how we got to the stage where the whole sleep thing feels like a very easy non-issue and to be honest… It’s really hard to think back and pinpoint how it happened. Maybe it’s because there is no way around some level of exhaustion, or maybe it’s because the new parent mind just blocks things out, but whatever the case- it was really helpful for me to proactively think back to the steps we took in those early months to get here.

Like all new parents, I had A Plan. I had read Baby Wise, and 10 days into Henry’s life, I decided to let him cry it out, as instructed by the book once you have had about 10 days to “adjust.” It was an unmitigated failure. I listened to my baby scream and cried so hard, until my mom reminded me that I did not need permission from any stupid book to snuggle my baby. She was right, and I decided that, while some fundamentals of Baby Wise were good, I needed to cast my research net and sleep approach further.

The key thing that my research (read: frantic sob-googling) revealed, is that baby sleep doesn’t mature linearly. So figuring out IF there is a problem is maddening, because sometimes what you think is THE END OF THE WORLD  is actually a normal developmental stage. But what you CAN do (because people telling you that a baby will grow out of it is like the least helpful thing ever), is figure out what good sleep skills you can be teaching at each age to work towards independent sleep. So, with the goal of independent sleep, a predictable schedule, and Henry putting himself down easily, here is what we did, broken down by age.

0-3 months

From 0-3ish months, babies are in the “4th trimester” and they just kind of sleep a lot, wherever, whenever, etc. People talk about how their 2 month old “sleeps great! Can sleep through anything, doesn’t need dark, ” etc.  Insert eye roll. Yes, they do, but that’s because they haven’t fully realized they are out of the womb yet. During this period, I relied a lot on the resources at Precious Little Sleep to confirm that babies don’t really “learn” much, nor will they have a schedule for more than a couple days before it changes. They need lots of soothing to sleep, so wearing them, rocking, using any combination of sleep props – all these things are awesome and helpful in getting newborns to sleep.

Still, I did follow the Baby Wise suggested cycle of eat-awake-sleep, meaning we did not use nursing to get Henry to sleep, unless it was a middle of the night feeding.  He slept in a Rock-n-play at night and for any naps where he wasn’t being worn or in the stroller, and the nap lengths were all over the place. We cranked that white noise machine as loud as it could go at home and he was swaddled. We tried to follow ideal wake times and put him to sleep before he was overtired- but it was a lot of guess work. At around 6 weeks, we established an actual bedtime (much later than it would later become- around 9ish), and around 2 months, we set an actual wake-up time (around 7:30). He was still waking up a couple times to eat in the night, but at least those two set times gave me some solid grounding.

Furthermore, we also started gently teaching him to put himself to sleep (though with the Rock-n-play, which helped). First, I would rock him till drowsy, set him down, and then stay beside him and pat him until he fell asleep. But slowly, I rocked and patted less. Around 2.5 months, we started allowing him to cry a little longer as he went down more awake. I did not use crying to try to prevent any sort of mid-nap wakings or night wakings, but we did let him fuss to sleep. After a very minimal period of this, he started going down initially with little to no crying. Naps were still unpredictable, nights were still interrupted for a couple nursing sessions, but bedtime became smooth.

So the takeaway, of what we found effective and teachable between 0-3 months to set us up for easy sleep training later: separating nursing from bedtime (this is the biggest thing!), and establishing that Henry was capable of putting himself to sleep, even if he couldn’t yet connect sleep cycles to stay there as long as I would like.

3-6 months

If you want to sleep train, this is the sweet spot. Much earlier than this and it will take a bunch longer/ be derailed by just normal development. But after 6 months you are fighting an uphill battle against object permanence.

Starting at 3 months, we did a couple things. First of all, we decided that Henry would fall asleep in his own room (in the RnP still), and then we would carry it into our room before bed because I still wanted him close. Yes, I know that is ridiculous- but it worked. He never woke up, and also learned to go to sleep in his room. At 4 months, we ditched the swaddle and the RnP in one fell swoop as he started rolling. It took approximately 2 nights, then he was back to putting himself to sleep quickly in the crib. He also started sucking his thumb, which was AWESOME, as one can’t lose a thumb as easily as a Paci.

We also used some crying to start eliminating night feeds, something which received the green-light from our pediatrician as his weight gain was fine. Our bedtime routine was solid and consistent: bath, bottle (formula- I breast fed the rest of the time, but some early weight gain issues prompted addition of one formula bottle a day, and I am all about it. It let me pump at bedtime, and allowed James to participate in feeding. Also meant we knew he went to bed FULL), books, sleep sack, one song in the rocking chair, down awake. Blackout blinds closed, sound machine cranked. He would then be nursed again when he woke up after 3 am, and then not again until 7. If he woke earlier, James was sent in to rock and soothe him initially, and then we allowed him to cry some too. This was not pleasant. It also was very short lived and did not scar him. Starting at 4.5 months, we started slowly tackling that last feeding. I didn’t want to just eliminate it like the others (which had been inconsistent and slowly disappearing on their own, thus were easier to drop). Instead, I started timing it and shaving off 30 seconds every couple nights. It took a month, but then he just stopped waking up once the feed was only a few minutes. At 5.5 months he was started sleeping 11 hours a night without waking. And all the tired mamas said AMEN.

As for naps… these became so much harder than night sleep, as most people with a baby will find. The length of an infant sleepcycle at this age is approximately 45 minutes, and until they learn to connect 2 or 3 into one long nap, they will wake after the first cycle (almost) every. single. time. It is the worst, and you want to lose your mind, and start trying everyyyyythhhinnnnggg to fix it.  Finally, I read this very helpful article. Inspired by it, I decided that the battle would eventually be won by Henry growing into connecting sleep cycles since he had learned to initially go down awake. In the meantime, I would cling to the semblance of a schedule by going in when he woke mid-nap and soothing him back to sleep through patting or rocking. It worked. For 2 months, I had to intervene almost every nap. But then one day- it clicked, right around 5 months. Yes, I realize this will be impossible with a second baby, as a toddler doesn’t give you the freedom to cater to every nap. We will cross that bridge when we come to it.

If you are a schedule lover like me, between 3-5 months, Henry had 3 naps a day, 2 that were 1.5ish hours in length (usually with a rock down in the middle) and one that was 45 min. I went on waketimes between naps instead of a fixed schedule. At about 5 months, I moved to a set schedule, so I would keep him up/wake him early to stay on it. Yes, there were hiccups, like around 6 months when naps sucked again and I had to drop the end of the day catnap to get them back on track.

6-15 months

The hard work was done! Once we sleep trained, we rarely had to redo it. Illness, travel, etc. might throw us off for a couple days, but the groundwork was there. Yes, there were (and are!) inexplicable nights where we were all up. There is no short cut to sleepless nights as a parent, because children are humans who sometimes need something other than a sleep schedule. I have had to learn that over and over again. But on the whole, the work we put in those first 6 months gave us a really wonderful sleep system that bends and flexes as we need and delivers us all a lot of rest.

If there were more than a couple nights or days that got wonky, I did check in with sleep resources and some great panting forums I am on to seek out advice. Often a tiny schedule tweak was needed as he grew older and needed less sleep. Around 10ish months I started capping the first nap a little to allow the second to be longer and nights to still go smoothly. Between 13-15 months I had to cap it more and more until Henry finally dropped to 1 nap around 15 months. Bedtime had to move back and forth a little bit as naps shifted.  As he got older, he stopped accidentally falling asleep in the car coming home from places and “ruining” naps, which also allowed our schedule more flexibility.

For the schedule lovers! We embraced a 2-3-4 wake time schedule, with naps starting at 2 hours each (so wake up at 7am, nap from 9-11 and 2-4, bedtime 8) and slowly nap 1 shrunk. When we dropped to 1 nap, our schedule became 7ish wakeup, nap 12:30-3:30, bedtime 7:30. Now that he naps a little less, we do wake up 7-7:30 (he is not allowed out of his crib before 7 even if he randomly wakes early), nap 12:30/1-3, bedtime a little before 8. He often talks, sings, or applauds in his crib awhile before falling asleep for naps or nights.

To close…

Henry loves sleep. He loves his routine, his schedule, his crib. Because he knows those things so well, he also goes to sleep pretty much anywhere as long as I put him in his sleep sack, crank the sound machine, and go through our rhythms. He does not ever skip naps, because he knows that he isn’t getting out of it. Sometimes now he will talk to himself for 30 minutes before falling asleep, and that is totally fine. We recently went through some random night wakings, and I actually was able to explain to him that it wasn’t morning, and he had to lie down and sleep… and he did. I know there will be issues when we drop the sleep sack and he realizes he can climb out of his crib, or when we add baby sister to his room. But the fundamentals of good sleep are there.

Most importantly, embracing this approach to sleep is what allowed our family to thrive. It gave us predictability that I desperately craved and professionally needed. It facilitated my extroverted love of social nights out, as Henry will go to bed anywhere and can be transferred home without a problem. It allowed him to get rest at his babysitter’s house, which allowed me to go to work without worry. It restored a calm to our evenings and gave James and I sleep early on. It allowed me to have big chunks of time to write my dissertation.

But again…having your baby sleep well/long/anywhere/predictable is not a moral good, like teaching your kid to love the Lord or even making them eat vegetables or something. If you love __________ (nursing to sleep, co-sleeping, lengthy bedtime routines- anything deemed “bad sleep hygiene” by judgey websites) then it is up to you to decide if the pros of independent sleep are worth the cons. Sleep training is one element of what helped our family thrive, so we could stop stressing about sleep and get on with the business of cultivating family culture. Sleep is not the end goal, but rather a daily discipline that facilitates bigger goals.

And now… if any of you have great success stories about sleep training second babies who shared a room and a very small living space… by all means, SHARE AWAY.

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Sleep training: This is what works.

SPring2018-30I hesitated a really long time to write about sleep training, as baby sleep somehow proves ridiculously controversial. People transform an impression of how you get your baby to sleep into an entire judgement not only of parenting, but of your very love for your child and decency as a human.  Every camp has their own studies to support their methods and demonize the other side… in spite of the fact that the overwhelming scientific consensus is that how your baby sleeps has very little to do with their ability to attach, love, function, thrive, etc. as an adult. Google it, if you want. Or Google the opinion you already hold and let the echo chamber of the internet confirm your internal bias, because that’s what everyone wants to do anyways.

I have mentioned sleep training a couple times on this blog and Instagram, and every time, the emails and the messages pour in from desperately tired parents who have questions. I decided to devote two posts to this topic, squarely in the middle of a collection of writings on intentional family culture, which may seem like an odd decision. I do not think that baby sleep defines family culture. I do not think there is one right (or universally successful) method of getting children to sleep. But I do think that sleep becomes something in those early years that defines so much of a family’s schedule. It is often a top preoccupation of parents in the first couple years- and rightly so. When we are tired, we can’t function, much less intentionally parent. How we sleep, how we fill those precious nap times when our children sleep- these are things that take on an outsized importance. And so, we are going to talk about sleep this week.

In the next couple of days (or tomorrow, if I manage not to nap this afternoon and actually write it), I will tell you the steps that we went through to achieve independent sleep, long naps on schedule, and peaceful nights. These steps might help you, or they might not. I mean, they might not even help me when I try to implement them again with a second kid. But they worked once.

You cannot control the sleep of another person, cannot make someone sleep. But what every parent can do is think about what ideally works for their family. You might struggle to get there, but having an idea of what you want out of baby sleep can be really helpful in those exhausting early months. I don’t just mean the generic “we need to all get sleep,” nor do I mean the unrealistic “I want my newborn to sleep through the night and I want to be able to sleep in with a toddler.” I mean the concrete sleep needs of the entire family.

For instance, I knew that I am a terrible sleeper who routinely wakes up multiple times a night, struggles to fall asleep, and doesn’t like being touched as I sleep. I also knew that I would be returning to work part time after having Henry and therefore it was vital that other people could put him to sleep easily and consistently in my absence. I knew that I thrive, and our family thrives, on a schedule and predictability. I knew that I needed long  and certain naps to eventually become a reality, because I had a dissertation to write during them.

In looking at what was necessary for the needs and goals of our family, I knew that we needed some method of sleep training that involved Henry sleeping independently, not in our bed, able to put himself to sleep/be put down by others, and a whole lot of structure. I set out researching how to accomplish that as quickly as possible. Which, as you will see in a later post, still wasn’t “quick.” Newborns don’t sleep as well as we like- this is a fact. Our magic sleep goals of Henry putting himself to sleep, sleeping all night  without interruption or nursing, and taking predictably long naps on schedule clicked around 5.5 months.

This is not a post to judge those who take a different sleep route, nor is it a post to argue about safe sleep. There are safe and unsafe ways to do any style of baby sleep. I have friends who co-slept, still co-sleep, nursed to sleep until their children were 2, etc. In spite of what sleep training die-hards will tell you- these parents are not miserable and exhausted. Many of them love the hours that they spend cuddling their children to sleep. They cherish the bond of co-sleeping or toddler nursing, and you know what? I get that. The few times Henry has ended up in bed with us have been impossibly precious. I wasn’t able to sleep a wink, confirming that it wasn’t a good fit for us, but they were moments that helped me understand why parents “put up” with 1 year olds who still don’t sleep through the night or need lengthy rocking before naps. Those parents have found what works… for them.

Sleep training, like any decision in parenting, is about finding the path that fits your family’s unique needs and being willing to shrug at the scoffers and say, “this is what works.” Maybe not for you, maybe not for always, but in this moment, for this family, it works. And isn’t that what family culture is about? Finding what works for you, and then continuing on so you can all thrive. It’s about having the confidence to be your family and not anyone else’s.

So if whatever you are doing in the baby sleep department is working for you- that’s awesome. Don’t bother reading the follow up to this post. But if you are exhausted, anxious, resenting your baby when they wake in the nap or don’t nap, and generally falling apart over sleep- then something is not working, and maybe some nugget of what we gleaned will help you.

And now, some practical disclaimers:

  • I have succeeded in sleep training exactly one child, with honorable mention going to a few others whose parents I have talked with a lot. Thus, I know approximately  nothing. I am also not really sure how we will do it the second time around, as it will be harder with kids sharing a room. But I have talked with so many of you about it that I thought I might as well put my pointers in a post so I can stop sending them in individual emails. I poured myself into sleep research with a fervor that matched my dissertation research, and even if it didn’t always result in making Henry sleep, it at least explained why he wasn’t sleeping, which helped me not lose my mind in those early months.
  • Henry was not naturally a good sleeper, something that people love to contradict when I say sleep training worked for us. There are good sleepers, and I hope to get one the second time around, but I didn’t the first. He was up every 1-2 hours to nurse for weeks, cried if I put him down the first two months, crap napped like a pro, and emphatically was not going to give up nightly nursing sessions on his own. Which is to say, he was a very normal baby.
  • I read, and implemented, some of the highly controversial BabyWise method. Other parts of it I dismissed as totally BS that just isn’t in line with baby sleep science or common sense. I also really relied on the wisdom of this website and it is pure gold.
  • I am not going to link to all the scientific studies showing that it doesn’t kill your child if they cry a little, but I promise- it doesn’t.
  • If anyone wants to buy me this so that my next infant can magically sleep for hours- I will happily send you my shipping address.

And now I’m curious… what is the sleep situation that is working for your family?



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Pick a hill to die.

Processed with VSCO with a6 presetMy sister-in-law and I were recently texting about the abundance of encouragement that exists on social media for moms who just don’t have it together. If you are a mom, and follow moms, you know what I’m talking about. The long confessions of fast-food meals, messy houses, unfolded laundry, ignored children, lengthy Daniel Tiger binge watching, etc. In the name of sanity and self-care (both really awesome things!), moms are pushing back against #momguilt by confessing that some days we all just can’t take it anymore and phone it in on a whole list of home and hearth responsibilities,  but these days- they do not define us. The unite us, in the fraternity of human moms trying to make it in the real world.

This can be really positive for those moments, days, and seasons that are just hard, where we survive, but only barely, and thriving just isn’t an option. But as my SIL and I were texting, she pointed out that in no other “profession” can we revel in excuses and failure without feel some sort of healthy shame. Many moms at home are quick to defend it as a full time job, but equally quick to revel in not always loving it. She said that we need “real grace, which is something like a slap of honesty, a hug of forgiveness, and the hope of actually getting a chance to be better tomorrow and eventually grow.” Because the truth is that if those moments, days, and seasons where the hardness of life becomes the excuse for all the ways we are failing our families turns into a perpetual state – something needs to change. We oscillate between the picture perfect social media mom who has it all together, and the one who is reveling in having nothing together. Both are unhealthy.

Instead, I’ve decided that we all need to pick a couple hills on which we die. I blogged last about creating an intentional family culture, and one of the practical ways that happens is deciding proactively what daily battles are and are not worth fighting. I hear it so often among parents, and I say it too, that some things aren’t worth fighting or correcting, that some lofty aspirations are no longer our hill to die on, that certain rules we wanted to adhere to aren’t worth the battle. It is a wise thing to be realistic in expectations and let some things go. But we shouldn’t let them all go, and somehow it seems like the dominant social media mom discourse has forgotten this. When we deviate from what we know to be best for our family and ourselves on a regular and habitual basis, we should feel guilt, and that guilt should propel us to getting back on track.

As I’ve been thinking about our intentional family culture, I’ve also been thinking about the hills that I’m willing to die on. The behaviors, rules, household practices, and principles that I am willing to dig in and fight for, as well as those that I have decided to recognize as good- but also not essential to what I want for my  family. Choosing these hills allows me to sort what I should be striving for, and thus what guilt is good and real when I fail, and what I am just not trying to accomplish, and thus what guilt is silly and pointless and should be rejected.

For our family, a daily hill that I am willing to hurl myself on and die is TV. As a general rule, Henry does not watch TV. There are rare exceptions, like the occasional family “movie” night, where we cuddle up and watch about 20 minutes of a movie, which is why it took us a over a month to finish Moana. We break our TV rule for major sporting events, because James is intent on being a sports family, and Henry actively tries to play the sport in the living room as it shows up on the screen, something which provides no end of entertainment. We break it if we need to cut his hair, or if he is staying with a babysitter and needs a short distraction as we slip out. And there are even rarer exceptions where it was “needed” due to illness, but I am pretty hard on what constitutes that need. When Henry had HFM, we watched some TV, and one day my morning sickness was so bad that I couldn’t stop vomiting and finally turned it on so that he would stop crying behind me on the bathroom floor and trying to “help.”  But TV is something we only allow for a designated and finite purpose, and boredom or bad weather or cranky attitudes or me needing a cyber-babysitter do not fit the bill.

Like all good hills, mine is chosen based on a combination of research, passion, and the particular weaknesses and strengths of our family. I have read the research about how early TV exposure correlates to delayed verbal skills, lower cognitive abilities, foreshadows later screen addiction (which has its own terrifying correlation to adolescent depression, suicide, and whole host of issues), and lowers creativity. But on a more practical note, I have seen how it turns my playful boy into a whiny beast and I cannot stand whining. 20 minutes of screen calm earns me seemingly endless days of whining.

And so, we go out. Day in, day out, in any weather, in every circumstance. We ride public transport and walk for miles, leave as soon as we can after breakfast and only come back for naps. We play hard in this city, and I feel insanely proud of the adventurer I am raising. I see the benefits daily. Some days it feels hard, like when it was sub 10-degrees for weeks in January and I really wanted to just turn on that TV. But by deciding ahead of time some of the things that are just Rules For Our Family, the decision is easy in the moment because it is already made. That’s what intentional family culture, and well-selected hills is all about: knowing who you are and knowing what you do and don’t do.

I am intentionally not linking to all those studies mentioned above, because you know what- there are other studies I ignore, ones that relate to different hills, different priorities. And that’s probably, hopefully, what you do to. We all find the data to support what we often instinctively feel to be best for our family. I know lots of amazing moms who show more TV than I do. Their children are different, the dynamics of their home and their needs are different, and they have different priorities that they have chosen to fight for. They are really great mothers, they just happen to be different mothers, with different hills. And I also know that this summer, as I struggle to juggle an infant (not my parenting strength) and a toddler, I will probably resort to some TV. But I hope that I feel that sharp prick of guilt, that reminder that this is ok for a season, but then we need to learn to thrive again the way that is best.

Here is the thing: picking your hills to die is about deciding who you are as a family. You cannot be everything. You should be some things, should have some hills that structure what your family values. I have spent these first years of motherhood deciding who I am and who I am not, and that allows me to prioritize.

I am the mom who does not use TV to entertain or babysit my child. I am the mom who will get us outside and moving every single day, no matter the weather or circumstances. I am the mom who insists that my child not take a bite until he has prayed, put his napkin in his lap, and allowed the cook to take a bite first. I am the mom who requires that he bus his own dishes and empty scraps in the trash. I am the mom who makes sure that meals are balanced approximately 65 percent of the time. I am the mom who lets veggie pouches and cheese sticks on the go count as lunch rest of the time so we can get out and about. I am the mom who really doesn’t care too much about snacking anymore. I am the mom who will not budge unless there is a please before commands and a thank you after. I am the mom who doles out childrens’ Mortin without hesitation. I am the mom who is a little neurotic about the schedule. I am the mom who makes sure her house is picked up and vacuumed each day. I am also the mom who lets my child make ridiculous messes, of himself and our house. I am the mom who cleans those messes and endless stains with mainstream, chemical-laden, cleaning supplies. I am the mom who mandates minimalism as a necessity more than a preference. I am the mom who lets my kid have plastic crap because he really loves it. I am the mom who loves her career and knows she is a better mom, wife, and person when she has a professional outlet.

I am not the mom who wakes up before her kids. I am not the mom who is good at getting in workouts. I am not the organic mom or the grain-free mom or the make-your-own bread mom. I am not the bone broth mom or the essential oil mom or the sustainable living mom. I am not the mom who requires all snacks to be eaten at the table. I am not even the mom who requires my toddler to stay at the table that long during meals. I am not the mom who loved nursing. I am not the DIY mom. I am not the mom who has an inside voice, and so I am not the mom who requires one. I am not the chill mom, who manages to be flexible with all things. I am not the mom who thrived with an infant. I am not the mom who will be cool with cancelling nap time to make fun happen. I am not the mom who manages to have her kid looking cute all the time. I am definitely not the mom who gets haircuts on a regular basis or remembers to change the sheets every week.

I know a lot of these moms and I am so glad they are in my life. I see them picking fights that I pass up, setting standards to which I fall short, and I have decided to be ok with that. Sometimes, their own zeal gives me pause and I do decide to reevaluate some standards I let slip. Other times, I shrug and thing, good for you, not for me. I do not have to die on their hills, but I should be ready to establish my own. Processed with VSCO with hb2 preset

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