Alpha Mom parenting and pregnancy opinions and information Thu, 20 Nov 2014 03:55:56 +0000 en-US hourly 1 On Being Sad Wed, 19 Nov 2014 16:01:48 +0000

I’ve been sad lately.

My brand of feeling down often manifests as anxiety, which has been rearing its ugly head lately too, but this time around, my sads feel like actual sads.

It’s not all day long, mind you, nor is it anything that I find to be worrisome. I’m hyper self-aware, which is a blessing and a curse, but if I felt as though it was interfering with my ability to function, I’d be the first to head to my doctor to have a chat.

On the contrary, I’m finding my nightly sadness to be cathartic.

See, this is the first time since high school that I’ve ever actually been alone. As in, uncoupled, and I’m finding myself with more time and energy to focus on myself, which is awesome, especially since this is the busiest time of year for me at work. I’m finally knocking stuff off my to-do list, things that have needed my attention for months now, and really, truly enjoying the company of my kids.

But all this time also means I have more of it to think, about my broken heart still healing from a love lost, the mistakes I’ve made, the regrets I have, all of which surface in the still of the night.

It usually starts when I’m sitting in my nightly hot bath after my day is done and the kids are asleep. I sit quietly in the water and think about what could have been or should have been. I think of things that I probably don’t even need to think about, things that I have no power to change. Things that will always be.

But when you’re always moving and going, when your energy is always being forced out to help others, well, you don’t get the opportunity to mourn. To feel the hurt and sadness and anger and all those feelings you have, that I have, that have been taking up space in my head and my body for many years.

Some old, some new.

I don’t think they’re bad, nor do I wish they’d go away. For too long I’ve used work and men (my two vices) to distract me from feeling them.

And now I want to give them a chance to be heard so that they can be quieted, not suppressed.

These feelings remind me that I’m human. That I’m alive. That I made it through a whole lot of crazy.

After ten minutes or so, I hop out of the tub and into bed, falling asleep peacefully, awakening the next day feeling content and grateful, my puffy eyes the only indication that I’d been crying.

The funny thing is that I don’t expect to find any sort of resolution. There’s no magic salve or cut and dry answer that will help soothe or squelch them.

For now, I’m just letting them be heard and known in a safe place, hoping that giving them air to breathe will set them free once and for all.

]]> 2
Why I Volunteer Even More At The High School Tue, 18 Nov 2014 23:18:50 +0000

My name is Mir, and I’m demanding.

It’s true, and I know it. I don’t mean that I’m obnoxious (I hope I’m not) or unreasonable (I don’t think I am), but I do want what I want and I’m not afraid to say so. In this phase of my life, that translates into spending an inordinate amount of time advocating for my children; while the IEP system is in place to accommodate kids like them (with various special needs), IEPs are neither magic nor automatic. My involvement in the process is necessary to make sure things run smoothly, and I consider that both my right and my privilege. That said, I want to be seen as part of my kids’ educational team, not just a parent making demands.

I have always volunteered in some capacity with my children’s schools/activities, throughout the years. And yes, it started because of this team mentality—hey, teachers, I’m on your side! I’m here to help!—but it has grown to more than that, and now that my kids are at an age where many parents let go and step back, my husband and I are at school more than ever. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Believe me, my kids aren’t shy about voicing their displeasure with us, and I have yet to hear, “Do you have to be there?” (In fact, what I usually hear is, “Can you come?” As often as possible, the answer is, “Absolutely.”)

Several times now when I’ve written about volunteering, someone has responded in a huff about how not everyone has the luxury of participating this way. While I know that sometimes there are extenuating circumstances that simply cannot be made to accommodate the time needed, I believe that most parents can find a way to make some volunteer time a reality if it’s important to them. [Edited to add: Even if that means showing up just once the entire year for an hour.] We work full-time and have busy lives and yes, sometimes I would much rather take a nap than go spend hours at school, sure. It’s not always easy or convenient, but I will be there as much as I can, and here’s why:

I want to be part of the team. As I already said, I want to be part of a cohesive team aimed at giving my kids the best school experience possible. Do parents with kids who need something extra who don’t show up to help still find that their kids are accommodated as needed? I certainly hope so—volunteering shouldn’t affect that—but the reality is that parents who help out are viewed more positively by school staff (“this isn’t just a parent asking us to do things, they’re willing to give back, too”), and anything “extra” my kids may need feels like less of an imposition, I assume, because teachers know we appreciate their hard work and do our best to help when possible. And on a very basic, no-ulterior-motive level, I want to give back where I feel my kids are getting the most benefit. Marching band has become very important in my kids’ lives in a dozen different obvious and subtle ways; I want to support the band.

I want to see where and how they’re spending their time. You can call it spying if you must, but I prefer to think of it as helpful reconnaissance. There’s a huge difference (at least with my kids) between the retelling of events around the dinner table and actually seeing with my own eyes how things unfold in real time. When I help out at school, I stay as far away from my kids as is possible—I don’t want to cramp their style—but I see things. I see how they interact with staff, I see who their friends are and how those interactions play out. I see a side of my children I don’t get to see at home. It’s a great way to pick up a lot of information by osmosis; I know which staff will bend the rules for them (for better or for worse) and which ones have no patience when they’re struggling. I know which kids whisper and point and which ones go out of their way to help others. I know who is perfectly polite to my face and horrid when they think no one is looking. I know. This builds my appreciation of the amazing folks involved (and make no mistake, that’s the majority) and allows me to subtly steer the kids away from anyone who may not have their best interests at heart. This is especially useful for my son, whose autism causes him difficulty in reading social cues.

I want to be with them on their terms. At this point in their lives, both of my kids are out of the house more than they’re home. My oldest is happiest when her dance card is not just full but double-booked, and if I didn’t volunteer, I’d hardly see her at all. I guess I could demand she be home more (I’m sure that’d work out great and she wouldn’t be resentful at all…) or just shrug and say, “See you on Sunday!” but I’d rather meet her where she is. As for my son, he needs a little more social support than his sister, and just knowing I’m around is often enough to make him feel more comfortable (and if something happens and he needs me, I’m there). Volunteering is a fabulous, unobtrusive way to stay in your teens’ lives without being right in their faces all the time.

I want to be part of the village. I’ve noticed something interesting has happened over the years: the same kid who wants me to just stay out of it, Mom, geez, is very quick to come to me with other kids’ problems. Recently something went down on a band trip that left another kid kind of shrugging off an incident as “no big deal” and my daughter asked me to please talk to the other kid because “it’s a big deal and this kid needs to hear that from an adult.” She was right, so I was able to pull the other kid aside for a conversation (as well as alert band staff to the issue). It was kind of a sticky situation and I was worried said kid might be angry with me, but the reception to my intervention was… surprisingly grateful, actually. I know that if this same situation had involved my child, someone else would’ve done what I did (and furthermore, that any message would be better “heard” from another adult). I’m not just there for my kids. I’m there for all the kids, as are the the other parents, because that’s good for everyone. The days when I’m there doing my thing and I see another adult call out to one of my kids for a hug (and said kid runs up, unembarrassed and delighted) are the days when I hide a smile and count our blessings. It’s good to have a village.

My people are there, too. I was never a band kid. My husband was never a band kid. Both of us had activities we loved, back when we were our kids’ ages, and our parents weren’t involved. We just went out and did our thing and that was that. Did I ever imagine I’d be where I am today, a middle-aged, frazzled adult who happens to be an active band booster and volunteer? Nope. And did I have any reason to believe that the other parents would turn out to be “my people?” I had no idea, honestly. But it turns out that most of the other parents who are there as much as we are really are our people—we’re not united by a love of band or volunteering, necessarily, but a love of our kids and a similar set of priorities. And what do you know… other folks who see the same merit in all the reasons why we’re there are often people we just plain like hanging out with. I’ve made some great friends through volunteering.

I only have a few years left with these oh-my-gosh-when-did-you-become-adult-sized kids. I’m glad to be able to be there for them (and their pals) before they fly the coop.

]]> 20
Potty Training Sans Peer Pressure Mon, 17 Nov 2014 17:07:37 +0000

Hi Amy,

I’ve been a loyal reader of your blog and the Smackdown since before I had my almost 28-month old son, (who incidentally, seems to be a clone of Ike, awesomely crazy hair and all). Any time I need to win a parenting argument with my husband, I just quote you FTW!

I know you get a million potty training questions, but here’s another desperate one. My son goes to daycare fulltime during the day and will pee in the potty all day there. He wears pull-ups, and has a whole impressive routine where he marches into the bathroom himself, climbs up onto the big boy toilet (no potty seat!), pees, wipes, gets down, puts back on a pull-up and pants, then washes his hands. All. by. himself. MAGIC! I swear, this woman is a miracle worker. He still won’t poop in the potty, but he’s starting to sometimes try to. I think he still doesn’t have as much control there, so we’re not rushing it.

The problem is that he won’t use the potty at home. Like, outright refuses to. It’s probably our fault because we were kind of lazy about it at home at first, but now that we’re actively trying, he won’t do it.

He’ll often tell me he has to use the potty when we’re out, or over at grandma’s (though there I think it’s just an excuse to go use the upstairs bathroom, which is usually forbidden), but at home, nope, no go. He’s an incredibly stubborn kid (plus really big and strong at almost 35 pounds), so there’s really no forcing him to do something without it getting ugly really fast. Plus, I don’t want him to have negative associations with our potty.

I’ve tried regularly telling him we’re going to the potty and trying to get him to go with me into the bathroom. Nope. I’ve tried asking him if he needs to use the potty. Nope. I’ve tried bribes with gummy bears (a treat he doesn’t usually get), which worked the first few times, now nope. An offer of a mini cookie worked once or twice, but again, it failed after a few times. We haven’t tried a sticker chart, but I honestly think he’s not going to get the association. I’ve tried telling him we’ll do something in advance and it usually leads to him thinking we’re going to do it now, then having a meltdown when we don’t.

So, where do we go from here? I want to have him working towards being fully potty trained, but I don’t want to undermine his good work at daycare by souring him on the whole thing at home. Should we do a no-pants weekend and try to do a 2-3 potty training marathon at home? Are there other techniques we’re missing?

Thank you!

Hmm, this IS a different flavor of potty stubbornness. Peer pressure at school is often a huuuuuge help, but usually we assume the effects will carry over at home, at least a little. I’m assuming you’ve spoken with the Miracle Worker at daycare about this? Maybe asked for her take or advice on the situation? Because yeah, I don’t want to undermine what she’s doing. But at the same time, given everything you’ve already tried, the only remaining suggestions I can think of would likely involve some changes at daycare as well.

Because I’d suggest ditching the pull-ups. I assume that’s what he’s wearing at home? And I assume his daycare prefers he wear them just in case, or because pooping on the potty isn’t quite 100% there yet? But I don’t know. In my experience, pull-ups can really be more of a hinderance than a help for some toddlers, particularly if they continue to wear them after having repeated, sustained success at using the toilet. They’re a nice backup for us adults, but they can ALSO send a really mixed message to a toddler. “Yep! You’re a big kid who uses the potty…buuuuuttttt it’s still kinda optional, because nothing really dramatic happens if you decide to just go in your pants.”

(I remember buying the ones with the disappearing design on the front to indicate wetness. I cannot even express how little of a crap [PUN!] my child gave about those dumb stars or moons or whatever.)

Since he’s proven himself to be capable of using the toilet at school and when you’re out, and not really receptive to positive rewards or incentives (those are NOT bribes), your best bet is to call his stubbornness bluff and let there be some natural consequences by his refusal to go at home. In this case: wet pants.

When I first start potty training, I typically go from diapers to a no-pants, bare butt stage, just because the whole “getting to the potty on time and getting your pants down” is more of a stage two for kids just starting out. Since your son has mastered that at school, I’d skip the no-pants weekend and buy him some underwear. And then dress him as he usually dresses for school. I would ALSO talk to his daycare and see if they have any super-strong resistance to him wearing underwear there, just so everything stays consistent.

I know the poop thing isn’t super consistent yet, but he IS trying, so maybe underwear will help him in that department. At least there’s not a HUGE difference between stripping off a soiled pull-up and tossing it in the trash vs. sending soiled pants home in a plastic bag. (And let’s be honest, we’ve all gotten those Bags o’ Disgusting sent home at some point — multiple points! — even AFTER our child was technically trained and in underwear full time. It shouldn’t be anything his daycare doesn’t deal with on a regular basis.)

This was the advice, by the way, we got from our own preschool Potty Training Miracle Worker. She recommended no pull-ups (though the slightly absorbent cloth training underwear was okay for just starting out). And when our little ball of stubbornness decided to train for a week…and then promptly untrained for a solid month, she advised us to keep him in underwear and then — when an accident happened — to NOT immediately strip off the wet clothes. Basically wait until it bothered him.  Or until he wanted to go somewhere or do something, and we could point out that nope, we can’t do that with wet pants, sorry.

He STILL tested us at home for about two days, but only to a certain point. He’d initially tell us that nope, he was clean and dry and fine even when he was so clearly, obviously NOT. But then, when we didn’t argue or move to change his clothes, he’d only make it about 20 minutes before giving up and taking everything off. At which point I’d promptly dress him all up again in underwear and pants (so no consequence-free puddles on the floor, or anything). Then it was 15 minutes, then five. Finally he was like, SCREW THIS, I WILL JUST GO SIT ON THE STUPID TOILET.

Every kid is different, of course, but I will say there’s no way we could have finished training that stubborn child using pull-ups, and maybe your son will be similar. Same deal if he’s wearing diapers at home, since your letter wasn’t clear if daycare and home are different — it’s time to banish the training wheels, so to speak.

Keep it SUPER POSITIVE, by the way — don’t purposely add to any distress over the wet clothes by shaming or scolding. Be as matter of fact about it as you can. When you pee in your pants instead of the potty, your clothes get wet and it’s not very fun or comfortable. I mean, it’s a fact we all have to live with.  Let him choose when to remove the wet clothes, but hold firm on the expectation that he will get dressed again and he will wear underwear again — there are no diapers or pull-ups left in the house anymore, another fact of life that no amount of stubbornness or tantrums will change.

(Hopefully he won’t just strip his clothing and underwear in a fit. If he does that, and has an accident on the floor, make sure he knows he’ll be expected to help clean it up, every time.)

Good luck!

]]> 11
Your Toddler’s First “Real” Christmas Fri, 14 Nov 2014 21:25:10 +0000

Hi Amy!

I have a somewhat seasonally appropriate question for you (since Halloween is over the only thing we could possibly be thinking of now is Christmas, right?)

My daughter will have just turned 2.5 when Christmas day rolls around (she is exactly 1 year younger than your youngest, Ike!) so I think this is the first year she’ll really understand what’s going on around her. Last year she was thrilled to eat Christmas cookies and get fun new toys, but really didn’t get the bigger picture. She doesn’t know anything about Christmas or what is to come– at this point she doesn’t even know who Santa is.

Basically, my question is: What is the best way to introduce everything to her? My husband and I are very subdued and practical people. While we do celebrate holidays, we tend not to make big deals out of them. We live modestly and certainly within our means. So we don’t want to go overboard with this Christmas stuff, but we also don’t want to be Grinches about the whole thing. We want to be sure she has fun and enjoys the holiday, but we don’t want to start off on the wrong foot with focusing only on presents or overdoing the special events etc.

Do you have any age-appropriate tips to get my daughter excited about and involved in her first real Christmas, without overemphasizing the hectic, crazy, and materialistic parts?


Honestly, there’s really no need to overthink this one, or to suddenly CHANGE ALL THE THINGS about the way you like to celebrate holidays. Keep doing Christmas the way you do Christmas. It sounds just lovely, honestly. Cookies, some pretty decorations, and a couple presents — what’s better than that?  At 2.5 years old, she’ll still likely be too young to really remember anything specific about this Christmas, so think of it more as building a gentle foundation of nice fuzzy-but-vague happy-time memories for next year, when she’ll see a Christmas tree and suddenly start talking about cookies or having a fire in the fireplace, so you know she’s starting to connect the dots.

That’s not to say that having a child means NO NEW TRADITIONS or anything. But you can still keep it simple. A new set of Christmas jammies to open on Christmas Eve, followed by a holiday TV special like Olive the Reindeer or Charlie Brown, or just playing some holiday music and reading a special Christmas book at bedtime. She’s probably too little to help with tree decorating, but she can help pick a tree out, either at a lot or a farm. Make it a fun outing, even if the whole purpose of it goes over her head at the time. Bake cookies and let her pour in the chocolate chips or “decorate” some sugar cookies. (They will be the ugliest, messiest, most precious cookies you will see. Take a million pictures!)

We started the Mall Santa Photo tradition right from the very first Christmas, first as kind of a joke (tiny confused bored-looking baby + cheesy Mall Santa = hilarious), and then it sort of…stuck. Now we do it every year and the kids genuinely look forward to it, and I admit I love looking through our collection of goofy photos every year and seeing how much the boys have grown. Some kids are (justifiably) weirded out or scared of Mall Santas, though, so again, don’t feel pressured to drag her to GO SEE SANTA!!! if you’d rather not. Read her books about him instead, if you’d like the Santa story to be part of her Christmas at some point.

My almost 3.5 year old STILL doesn’t know who Santa is, though, if you ask him. He was your daughter’s age last year and was still mostly confused about a lot of what was going on. He loved our Christmas tree, the cookies, and dancing to a musical Charlie Brown tree over and over and over. That was really enough for him. I’m looking forward to this year, just to see what exactly he’ll remember or if it’ll be all new, all over again.

We bought him exactly one present for Christmas morning (besides some trinkets and treats in his stocking), but thanks to friends and relatives his bounty under the tree was still totally ridiculous for a small toddler. So don’t worry about being grinches if you stick to just a small number of presents. Two years old = two presents, plus a stocking is more than enough. Ike got tired of opening gifts last year so I let his older brothers open them for him. Let your daughter take a break as well, or open gifts slowly, one at a time, rather than a big videotaped frenzy where she’s not allowed to play with or even look at one present for very long before you’re egging her on to open the next one. (I admit we’ve done this. Then I watch the video like, “CALM DOWN CRAZY PEOPLE. GIVE THE POOR KID A MINUTE.”)

One final tradition to consider: Taking your daughter to a toy store to buy a toy for Toys for Tots or an Angel Tree every year. Do it this year just because it’s a kind thing to do, and each year she’ll slowly come to understand what you’re doing, and hopefully it will temper the GIFTS GIFTS GIFTS ME ME ME stuff with a little real-world experience in giving without the expectation of getting anything in return.

]]> 12
Turkey Sandwich Food Craft for Thanksgiving Fri, 14 Nov 2014 15:56:29 +0000

Help get your kids excited for Thanksgiving with this cute and healthy sandwich that looks like a turkey. Fill it with  PB&J or whatever else your child likes, or with leftovers from the feast.

To get started you’ll need:

  • red and yellow bell peppers
  • sandwich bread and sandwich fillings
  • carrot
  • red bell pepper or tomato
  • icing googly eyes

You’ll also need this equipment:

  • a small leaf-shaped cookie cutter
  • a large, round cookie or biscuit cutter

Turkey Sandwich Fun Food Craft by Wendy Copley for #Thanksgiving

Start by cutting the bell pepper into wide strips, then use the leaf cutter to cut eight pieces of orange pepper and four pieces of yellow pepper. If you don’t have a leaf cutter, you can just cut these pieces from the pepper with a knife.

Tip: peel off the tough outer skin of the bell peppers with a vegetable peeler. This will make it easier to cut through the peppers with the cookie cutter and I’ve found most kids are much more likely to eat bell peppers when the skin is removed.

Turkey Sandwich Fun Food Craft by Wendy Copley for #Thanksgiving

Arrange three pieces of the orange pepper at the top of the plate. Add a row of the yellow bell peppers below that, and then finish the turkey’s tail by adding the remaining orange pepper pieces.

Cut two circles of bread with the large, round cutter and fill the sandwich with whatever fillings you are using. I used ham and cheese when I made this sandwich, but if you have leftovers from Thanksgiving turkey slices and cranberry sauce are kind of a no-brainer for this sandwich. Add the sandwich to the bottom of the plate so that the peppers are tucked under it a bit.

Cut a slice of carrot about an inch wide and two inches long. I cut a baby carrot in half length-wise and it worked perfectly.

Turkey Sandwich Fun Food Craft by Wendy Copley for #Thanksgiving

Now give the turkey a face. I used icing googly eyes and a couple of small triangles cut from the yellow bell pepper scraps for the beak. The turkey’s wattle was made by cutting two small pieces of red bell out with the end of a drinking straw.

Turkey Sandwich Fun Food Craft by Wendy Copley for #Thanksgiving

And now you have an adorable sandwich they’ll gobble up! (See what I did there?)

]]> 0
Thanksgiving Craft: Turkey Hair Clip Thu, 13 Nov 2014 18:14:31 +0000

Time to get dressed for Thanksgiving. These little turkey hair clips are a simple but festive way celebrate turkey day.

Turkey Hairclips by Cindy Hopper for #Thanksgiving

Turkey Hair Clip Supplies

Ribbon, googly eyes, hair clips, fabric glue, Painters paint pens.  All supplies were found at Michaels Art & Crafts.

Turkey Hairclips by Cindy Hopper for #Thanksgiving

How to make turkey hair clips

With Painters paint pens, color the hair clip brown. Once completely dry, add a beak detail with the orange paint pen.

Turkey Hairclips by Cindy Hopper for #Thanksgiving

Cut ribbon into three equal pieces about 3-4 inches long and one piece about 5-6 inches long.

Turkey Hairclips by Cindy Hopper for #Thanksgiving

Glue longest piece into a figure 8. Make loops with the remaining three pieces and glue ends.

Turkey Hairclips by Cindy Hopper for #Thanksgiving

Glue loops on top in a figure eight. Next glue googly eyes to front of hair clip.

Turkey Hairclips by Cindy Hopper for #Thanksgiving

Glue ribbon to top back of hair clip.

Turkey Hairclips by Cindy Hopper for #Thanksgiving

The result is one darling little turkey hair clip.

Turkey Hairclips by Cindy Hopper for #Thanksgiving

]]> 0
The Postpartum Visitor Guilt Trip Wed, 12 Nov 2014 14:35:08 +0000

I am 32 weeks along with my first baby. My husband and I are from the Midwest; he is in the military and we are currently stationed in the Southwest, about 1,400 miles away from family and friends, which sucks but we are doing the best we can with it.

My mom and in-laws were talking about coming to visit us a little after our daughter was born but we ran into a few problems: my mom is terrified of flying, and a couple months ago told us she may not be able to come because her fear of flying was so strong (which I told her I completely understand). It turns out my MIL has the same extreme fear and would not want to fly unless FIL was with her. He’s not able to make it because he has too much traveling for work.

My husband and I talked about it and decided it would maybe be a better idea if we had no one come visit us. To clear this part up – my daughter will be born the end of December, my husband is getting out of the military, so we will be home for good by the end of May. We thought it would be a little easier on everyone else if we just waited till we came home for everyone to have an equal opportunity to see her at the same time. There are other reasons too: we do not have the room for people to come stay with us, my family cannot afford a hotel room, it will still be the holiday season when they visit and plane tix will be expensive. There were a couple of friends we’ve already told this to and they completely understand our reasons.

My mom, however, is extremely upset and is taking this decision as “I don’t want her around” which couldn’t be furthest from the truth. I tried explaining all this to her and she says she just doesn’t understand and is devastated that I “don’t want her here.” I don’t want her to be upset and to understand and respect my decision. I was wanting a little advice on how to better explain things to her. And my question is: Is this right for me to say/do? Am I truly being cruel to my mom?


Holy guilt trip, Batman.

Let me get this straight: Your mom already told you that hey, that hypothetical visit we were talking about? Probably won’t happen, because of a fear of flying. So you know, heads up that you probably can’t count on her 100% for postpartum support/help. You graciously explain that you understand, it’s okay.

So then you and your husband talk things over and come up with an alternate plan that works for you and your current living situation, AND a plan that doesn’t put any guilt or pressure on people who don’t want to fly. And your mom freaks out over a trip that she already told you might not happen and is now twisting your words and intentions for maximum Bad Daughter Guilt.

You know what? Whatever. This is my least favorite Mom (or MIL) Move and I am fresh out of patience for it. I sense you could explain and explain until you’re blue in the face and it won’t make a bit of difference, because your mother has gone Full Drama Queen. You are not being cruel; she’s being more than a tad ridiculous.

Sure, it’s understandable that she’s disappointed that she’ll need to wait a few months to see the baby in person. It’s a bummer, but it doesn’t really make sense for her to go so overboard when the trip was already kind of iffy. And her disappointment doesn’t make it okay for her to make you feel like crap. Sure, I completely understand that some folks are deathly afraid of flying, but…what did she expect you to do? Buy her a ticket and then just sort of hope she’ll get on the plane? (Or even better, hope that she doesn’t spend the rest of your pregnancy making you feel guilty about the plane trip and the anxiety and the stress of it all.)

I also can tell you from years of Advice Column Experience that there are a ton of daughters out there who would straight up FREAK OUT over their moms using a fear of flying as an excuse not to come see them after giving birth, and would insist/beg that their moms find some way to conquer their fear (therapy, Xanax, etc.) for the sake of the baby. You gave your mom a pass on that and, after further reflection, decided it was probably for the best. I see nothing wrong with this.

Maybe this isn’t the first time her fear of flying has caused her to miss out on something momentous, and rather than realize that “hey, this is an irrational level of fear that needs to be dealt with somehow,” she’s deflecting blame onto you. Maybe she’s got a victim/martyr complex and thinks you’re “punishing” her for something she “can’t help,” but…you’re not. That I feel like I know for sure. Your reasons for no postpartum visitors are sane, sound and perfectly reasonable. I assume you guys are used to bridging the temporary distance with frequent phone calls, photos, Facebook, Skype, etc. This really isn’t the end of the world. This isn’t because you “don’t want her there,” it’s just the way things are right now. Cramped, far-flung, and soon to be in a massive state of flux. The same no-visiting rules apply to everyone, and no, that doesn’t mean your mom isn’t still super special and won’t be missed. But this is you being the grown-up, making grown-up decisions about how you and your new family would like to spend the first few months together.

What’s important is that YOU feel good about this decision, independent of how ANYBODY else feels or what they think. You no longer need to defend it to anyone. Stick to your guns. Stop trying to re-explain things. Change the subject when she starts guilt-tripping you with “I don’t understaaaaand” and such. Maybe one last, “Mom, this isn’t about us not wanting you there and you know it. Stop making me feel guilty about this decision, because it’s final. Moving on.”

And then file this little tantrum away for future reference, once you’re all moved back home and in regular, closer proximity to her. I’m guessing this pattern of behavior will repeat, as will your need to recognize it, stand strong and not let it get to you.

If there is a question you would like answered by Amalah on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to

]]> 26
Puzzles Tue, 11 Nov 2014 16:02:35 +0000

There’s some expression about how the older you get, the more you realize you don’t know. I often tell my kids that it must be nice to know everything; I recall that belligerent certainty from my own teen years—I just knew I was right!—and while I remember it and know it’s a normal developmental stage, it still makes me crazy. They are sometimes so convinced of their rightness I realize where the phrase “shake some sense into them” comes from, because the temptation is nearly overwhelming. Wisdom is embedded in knowing how much you don’t know, I’m sure of it.

Or maybe I just think that because I’m keenly aware of how much I don’t know, anymore.

I say it all the time: The longer I parent, the more convinced I become that I don’t know a damn thing. My knowledge banks on the topic of raising well-adjusted humans aren’t just empty, they’re overdrawn. Advice I shared when the kids were younger—and I won’t say that I was smug, because I hope I wasn’t, but I was earnest about it, I’m sure, because it was just true—now seems laughable. Oh, yes, younger me—for sure if you do X when your child does Y it will result in Z. That’s just logic! That was back when I still believed children were predictable. Hahaha!

My parents were here for a visit a few weeks ago, and my father is a word puzzle nut. Crosswords, cryptoquips, whatever they put in the paper, he’s at the kitchen table, pencil in hand, working some sort of puzzle. My daughter went and grabbed an old crossword puzzle book and sat with him, one day, working her puzzle alongside him, until it was pointed out that she was using a kids’ book and could probably handle the puzzle in the paper. “No, that’s too hard,” she said, at first.

Here’s the thing about my beautiful, brilliant nearly-adult girl: There is no gray in her perception. Everything is black or white. It’s impossible or it’s ridiculously easy. It’s a life-or-death issue or it’s pointless. Everything I once understood to be true about motivation and purpose has been turned on its head with this child, because I haven’t a single clue as to how to help her to understand that so much of life is actually gray.

So, the crossword puzzle: She thought it would be too hard, therefore it wasn’t worth attempting. But my dad is sneaky, you know, and he started asking her for help. And later, when he abandoned the puzzle for a while, I found her hunched over it, pencil in hand, filling in answers her grandpa hadn’t been able to suss out. She showed it to him later on and he was blown away by how much she’d done, and I beheld a rare sight: my child looked proud of herself.

Since then, the puzzle page disappears before we’ve even finished unwrapping the paper, seems like. She does the LA Times Sunday puzzle first, as a warm-up to the NY Times Sunday puzzle. She asks me to work on it with her, sometimes, and any parent of a teenager knows that when you’re asked to come do something recreational with your child, you don’t ask questions, you simply move in slowly so as not to startle them. I’m a decent crossword puzzler, I think, after years of practice… but she is better at them than I am, already. She doesn’t need my help. Still, I oblige because I am fascinated by the entire process.

My child who can’t be bothered with homework that doesn’t interest her or who gives up on assignments as soon as she runs into something she doesn’t know will spend hours on these crosswords. She is undaunted by the clues that mystify her; she knows if she keeps going, eventually she’ll have more letters and may figure it out. This same kid who cannot remember to set her alarm at night or seem to get out the door on time or gather up the items she needs before she does so will periodically bolt upright with inspiration, having just figured out the answer to a clue that’s been niggling at the back of her brain for a day or three.

There was a time when I believed I could simply shape my children into the forms I believed most productive. The right environment, the right discipline, and of course they would tow the line or else. Today, my daughter is a classic underachiever—while she possesses the intellect for great accomplishments, her actions rarely match her potential (for a variety of reasons, and let’s not debate whether this is a choice or disability, because now I know that we can’t know the answer, anyway). Chores remain incomplete, schoolwork is neglected and/or forgotten, responsibilities often go unmet. A few years ago, I would’ve surveyed this landscape with anger and frustration and met requests for puzzle time with proclamations like, “Well if you can’t be bothered to do your chores, I certainly can’t be bothered to sit with you while you play” and the like.

Nowadays, I know how much I don’t know. I settle a dog on my lap while she and I put our heads together at the kitchen table and put the paper between us. We take turns. I see her—the true her, smart and funny and competent and engaged—and I know that she can have anything she sets her mind to. I also see that right now, it’s just a crossword puzzle. I wish I knew how to swap out that puzzle for half a dozen other things, just slip more important goals in there and see her focus on them with the same spark and intensity. But I can’t. I no longer kid myself that if I just hit upon the “right” thing, everything will be “fixed.”

I do love crossword puzzles, though. And oh, how I love the lovely young woman who invites me to work on them with her. And so for now, I work on the puzzles, making peace with how much I don’t know.

]]> 15
Two Year Old Bedtime Anxiety Mon, 10 Nov 2014 14:28:13 +0000

Dear Amy,

I have one two year old, who, up until this point, has been a fantastic sleeper. He has always slept alone in his crib with little to no protest from 7:30pm until 6:30am. He naps for an hour and a half each day too. Amazing, right?

That is, until two weeks ago. He started daycare full-time a couple months ago, so his napping is now public! And then two weeks ago, we left him overnight for the first time with my sister and her kids for a couple nights. And since then, he’s been a little more difficult going to bed on his own, but not impossible. It’s just gotten progressively worse. These past few nights, if I try to bring him anywhere close to his crib, he will scream his head off and claw at me to stay in my arms. So he wants to sleep in our bed beside us. A week ago, when this happened, I would wait until he was in deep sleep and then carry him to his crib and he would sleep for the rest of the night. Now, he won’t even get in deep sleep. The moment I try to carry him, his eyes flip open and he starts to cry. I’m at my wits end. What do I do to revert him back to his good sleep habits?

We have tried to remove one rail of his crib so he wouldn’t feel trapped and thus keep him in his bed, but that hasn’t worked. He loves it during the day and will roll around his bed and laugh and play, but nighttime! He still screams! I’m totally at a loss, I have never felt so out of control of my usually great sleeper’s sleep habits!!


Sounds like separation anxiety, which is a very, very common nighttime/bedtime issue around age two. It’s especially common if said two year old has recently had a big life change — moving, new sibling, etc. — and I would probably count a new full-time daycare routine and a solo, multi-night visit with relatives as possible triggers as well. (Not to make you feel guilty or anything — big life changes are part of life and often unavoidable. Things happen.  If it wasn’t Thing A that brought this phase on, it would have been Thing B or C or D, if you know what I mean.)

By two years old, children are really, painfully aware of all sorts of stuff that can freak them out before bed. Bedtime means Mom goes away for a really long time. Bedtime means the dark. Bedtime means the possibility of bad dreams, or of their imagination (which is still kinda new and not something they 100% understand or can control yet) running wild with thoughts of monsters and scary things. So they fight bedtime tooth and nail.

It’s a fine line to walk — you don’t want to establish undesirable habits but you also need to acknowledge that your toddler is not doing this on purpose or to be “difficult.” He’s really genuinely afraid, and while WHAT he’s afraid of (be it parental abandonment or monsters under his crib) isn’t real, his FEAR of those things is very, very real to him. You need to comfort him, but continue to set limits and find ways to help him process and deal with his fears independently.

Some tips for toddlers with bedtime separation anxiety:

1) Loveys or security objects. If he doesn’t have a special blanket or toy, it’s not too late to introduce one. Or re-introduce something he’s had since infancy like an old swaddling blanket or a stuffed animal that’s always just been “around,” watching over him from a shelf. Talk about the object as if it’s very, very special and that it’s only job is to make him feel loved and safe. Put that new imagination of his to work, but in a happy, positive way.

2) Nightlights, light-up crib aquariums/musical toys, toddler flashlights, etc. There are a TON of great, soothing-type toys to help with bedtime anxiety. Even if his fear isn’t the dark, specifically, something like a Moon in My Room, Constellation Turtle, or just a really cute nightlight he can keep in bed with him might be worth introducing to his bedtime routine.

3) Play music. When my oldest went through a bit of bedtime anxiety (lots of runaway imagination/fear of bad dreams, mostly), I created a playlist on an old iPod that we’d turn on for him every night. It was a mix of soothing, quiet songs from toddler/preschool favorites like Raffi, Laurie Berkner, Dan Zanes and would close out with instrumental-only songs. (The Vince Guaraldi Trio, in our case.) We played the same songs in the same order every night, and after a week or so the final songs were like toddler melatonin — he was OUT by the end of the playlist.

I think it’s important (since it doesn’t sound like co-sleeping is your personal jam) that he start out the night in his own room. I know this is a super tough call, because you’re trying to simultaneously respect his separation anxiety fears while still removing yourself as a sleep crutch/bad habit. You can try starting bedtime earlier, incorporating relaxation techniques (stretching, deep breathing, the relax your toes/knees/butt/tummy game), and then hoping that one or more of the above suggestions is a soothing enough distraction for him to enjoy in your absence. If he wakes up really scared and hysterical (bad dream, for example), bringing him to your bed probably isn’t the worst thing in the world, provided it doesn’t become an EVERY NIGHT thing.

This WILL be a short-term, NOT FOREVER sleep hiccup, most likely. Lots of kids’ sleep goes kaplooey around this age for a million different reasons. Try to treat it like any other developmental-based sleep regression: with a mix of “coping the best you can so everybody gets as much sleep as they can” and  “sticking to your guns over deadbreaker bad habits that could become long-term if you’re not careful.”


]]> 12
Why I Chopped Off All My Hair Sat, 08 Nov 2014 16:19:35 +0000

I spent the entire day after getting my hair lopped off thinking of how to explain the decision to people.

I just don’t have time to do my hair every morning!

I love pixie cuts!


Because I did it on my weekend without kids, which I chose to spend alone in downtown Philly where no one had ever seen me before, I had time to wander the streets as the “new me” while I figured out how to answer the inevitable questions I’d face when coming home to where the “old me” existed.

I’d told no one beforehand, though I’d been planning the haircut for weeks — my hesitance, my two cancellations — all because I didn’t want to have to tell people the real reason.

And I get it. Why would a pretty girl with pretty hair who’s had it short a couple of times and knows it isn’t necessarily her best look chop it off?

But that’s exactly why I did.

I don’t really want to feel pretty right now.

Look, I know girls look gorgeous with short hair. Take Ginnifer Goodwin, Charlize Theron, Michelle Williams, Anne Hathaway.

But for me, it’s different.

I’ve spent most of my life feeling accepted and wanted solely based on my appearance, which isn’t hard when you’re a tall half-Asian (so exotic!) girl with long legs and a slender frame. Also not hard when that seems to be the only way you’re getting approval.

It’s old nonsense that haunts me when I stare in the mirror and decide I need to fit into a particular size pants even though there’s vanity sizing and no one really cares (or knows) if you’re in an 8 or a 10 except you.

All my energy for all these years has gone outside of me, yes on my looks but also in often times dysfunctional caring for others (my kids excluded because duh, they’re my kids).

And so over these past few weeks, as I remove myself from relationships and delete all the dating apps off my phone, I’ve made a decision to take care of my own business for once. To draw my energy in for now.

My hair, my looks, well, they give me a confidence that has, at times, bordered on unhealthy, and somehow altering it gives me a chance to breathe.

There are dentist visits and doctors appointments. There are cars that need tires rotated. There are budgets that need to be made and followed. There are a myriad other things in my own life that I need to tend to right now, not even including my four children and their health and well-being and livelihood, that in chopping off my hair I feel as though I’m able to force myself to focus on.

And really, I want to feel sexy and beautiful and hot and amazing and confident because of everything about me.

That’s not to say I haven’t had (and don’t still do) have relationships that are based on more than just my appearance. I know people have loved (and do love) me for who I am.

But the love for myself has been too tied up in what I show to the world, in both how I look and how I act.

This is how I’m choosing to start harnessing that energy for someone who really needs it before it’s too late.

And that person is me.

]]> 8