Alpha Mom parenting and pregnancy opinions and information Thu, 27 Aug 2015 12:56:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Washi Tape and Wrapping Paper Book Covers DIY Thu, 27 Aug 2015 12:55:45 +0000

It’s Back-to-School time! And, carrying heavy books can be such a drag when your student gets into the older grades. You can’t really lighten their load but you can brighten it with some fun book covers made from wrapping paper and washi tape. Here’s how:

Washi Tape and Wrapping Paper Book Covers DIY (supplies) by Brenda Ponnay for

Supplies that you’ll need:

  • wrapping paper wider than your biggest book (check local craft stores for fresh new patterns)
  • washi tape or decorative masking tape
  • scissors
  • stickers (optional)

You probably remember how to cover books from the last time you were in high school but if you need a refresher her’s how we did it:

Washi Tape and Wrapping Paper Book Covers DIY (how-to) by Brenda Ponnay for


First, lay you book down open faced on your wrapping paper and cut it so that you have one inch on the top and the bottom and two inches on each side.

Bend your paper around the book on the top and the bottom so you have a slight crease for reference. Remove the book and crease the top and bottom sides down. Then put your book back down and do the same thing for the right and left sides. (Be sure to do this step with your book open.)

Now that you have all your sides folded carefully slip your cover into the two inch slot created by the folded sides. Tape to secure and then decorate with tape! Try stripes in different colors going all directions. Let your students show their individual style with prints and patterns. If they are still into stickers that works too!

Washi Tape and Wrapping Paper Book Covers DIY by Brenda Ponnay for


Books or festive presents? I guess that depends on how much you like to study! Enjoy!



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Not Actually About Cars Tue, 25 Aug 2015 16:49:34 +0000

Now that my oldest is licensed, I don’t get to drive my car very often, anymore. That’s fine—after all, given that my office is at home, the bulk of my driving was shuffling the kids to and fro, anyway—and I am definitely not a “car person” by any means, but sometimes I miss my trusty little Corolla. We are fortunate enough to have an extra car so it all works out; my husband takes his car to work, I’ve been letting the kids take my car to school (and the ensuing rehearsals/activities/appointments, as needed), and then we have a pickup truck I can drive if I need to go somewhere.

So, in order for the next bit to make sense, you have to understand that my husband is a Car Guy. He loves cars. Loves them. My standard way of dealing with a car is to find one I like for not too much money and then drive it until the wheels fall off. His standard way of dealing with a car is to find one he likes, drive it for a while, then sell it and buy another one he likes better. Many car-type things matter to him which are absolute Greek to me. We have a whole year before my oldest leaves for college, and somehow we are already talking about whether she’ll need a car and if so, what sort of car, etc. I assumed we might assist her in buying a (used) car, but my husband thinks my car has been so reliable (and is the right size and such) that we should “sell” her that and get a different car for me. It’s a reasonable plan, but it means I have to figure out what I want next and what I’m willing to pay, which seems like a lot of effort when my Corolla is such a good and boring, no-muss/no-fuss car. (And we talk about me just driving the pickup and not bothering with another car, but needless to say the truck doesn’t get great mileage.)

This is how I ended up behind the wheel of a Nissan Leaf with my husband explaining to me all of the reasons why an all-electric car is a fabulous choice for me. (A friend asked to borrow our truck to move some things, and swapped us the Leaf for a day.) I’ll admit: it’s a pretty sweet ride, and the idea of not having to buy gas is very appealing. But I kept coming up with questions, and then excuses.

“I just don’t think I can do it,” I said, finally. “What if I need to go further than the 80 miles it gives me, or whatever? What if there’s an emergency? What if I need to go to the airport??” He had reasonable-sounding rebuttals to all of these—we have another car, 99% of the time I’m just staying right in-town—but I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that such a relatively short tether was a recipe for disaster. “I’d rather get a hybrid,” I told him. “I’d stay electric in town, but I wouldn’t be stuck if I needed to go farther.” In the back of my mind as I what-if-ed was one unshakeable red flag: the college my daughter wants to attend is just about 80 miles away. What if she’s there and she calls and needs me right away and my stupid electric car runs out of charge 5 miles from campus?

He chuckled. “You have range anxiety,” he said. In response to my raised eyebrows, he assured me, “That’s totally a real thing. People worry they’ll get stuck somewhere, and that’s what you’re doing. It’s very unlikely you would, but I understand why it bothers you.” He knew what I was thinking. And while he’s right that we could probably make it work between all of the vehicles in play in our household, it feels too risky to me. I’m much more likely, next spring, to find myself a used Prius Plug-In. I’d run it pure electric most of the time, I’m sure. But just in case, I’d be covered.

I keep thinking about range anxiety, though. I feel like it’s a pretty good metaphor for parenting teens. When my daughter is out with the car and I know she’s in transit (not when she’s at school during the day, but when I know she’s on her way to the next thing, or whatever), I’ll often pop open our family locator app just to see where she is and about how fast she’s moving. I ask her to text me when she arrives places (particularly if she’s headed somewhere far or unfamiliar) because it gives me a little peace of mind, but I can also check on her this way. If her location keeps moving when she’s en route, then I know she’s not crashed and bleeding on the side of the road. (I know how ridiculous this is, once I type it out like that. But that’s really what I think! How did we live before smartphones and location services??) Last weekend, for the first time, we adults were out of the house (out of town, actually) when she drove somewhere, and it occurred to me that if anything happened, we were a little too far away to get there quickly. She was fine, of course. I need to figure out how to unclench a little.

At the same time, though, I often feel suffocated by the kids inside the house. That’s a different kind of range anxiety—it’s the why must everyone congregate in my office while I’m trying to work or I just want you to go upstairs, why are you still here insisting it’s time to flop down on my lap for a cuddle kind. While I’m trying to smooth over any irritation sparked by the phenomenon I like to refer to as Velcro Teens, I try to remind myself that I’m not Goldilocks, and if I spend all my time either irritated by their extreme proximity to me or fretting that they’re too far away, I’m going to miss what little time is left of their childhood. Range anxiety might be natural, but that doesn’t mean I can’t try to overcome it a little.

Yesterday I didn’t check the location app while the kids were out. And this morning I stopped what I was doing to spend a little time with them before school. But I’m still not getting an electric car.

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The No-Gifts Birthday Party Mon, 24 Aug 2015 16:22:39 +0000

Hi Amy!

Whenever I run into a parenting problem, I usually search through your glorious advice smackdown columns and can find an answer to my issue (like WHY??!! won’t my toddler poop in the dang potty? – answer: deal with it). But I’m having a dilemma I can’t find an answer to. Basically, am I allowed to request no gifts for my soon-to-be-three year old’s birthday party?

The issue is, my daughter’s party is in about 6 weeks and I’m due with baby number 2 in about two weeks. This is the first “real” friends (aka daycare kids) party I’m throwing for my daughter and a big reason I wanted to do it this year was to give her a special day after turning her world upside down with a sibling. Although, I’m not crazy. I am forking over a small ransom to a kids party place so all I have to do is show up with a cake. I know a lot of family and (our grown up) friends will probably buy her a “big sister” present when the baby gets here and then again for her birthday, so it’s not like this kid is not getting a fair share of new stuff. We have a small house and she already has a ton of toys, coloring books, etc. I really don’t want to deal with presents from her daycare friends as well. But, whenever we talk to her about her party, she mentions presents. Somehow, it’s ingrained in their little psyches that parties=presents and I don’t want her to be disappointed. So, can I ask daycare friends to not bring presents (and if so, how do I word on invitations) or should I suck it up and deal with more onslaught of toys in order to avoid disappointment (especially after I have shelled out so much cash for a party, I don’t want the only thing she remembers is that she didn’t get presents)?

Save me from the mountain of stuff!

You are ABSOLUTELY allowed to stipulate “no presents” for a child’s birthday party. It’s a perfectly acceptable, commonly done thing for all the reasons you mention and there’s no need to overthink the invitations. Simply put “No gifts please!” somewhere in there and be done with it.

As for your daughter and warding off any potential disappointment, you’ll be super extra mega-grateful for that small ransom you paid to the party place, because presents aren’t be on the agenda at all. Typically these places offer a bin or some designated place for guests to drop off presents, which is then quickly whisked away and out of sight once the party begins. Presents aren’t the point or focal point of the party, and I personally dig that. I am also a fan of parties that I do not have to clean up after. Money well spent.

You should give your venue the heads up that you requested “no gifts” however, so they don’t put whatever gift receptacle they use all front-and-center where guests who followed your instructions will see it and get confused. But be prepared that there will inevitably be a few rule-breakers (or people who didn’t read the invitation that closely), so the party hosts should also be on hand to collect and quickly store/hide any gifts that show up. I imagine every professional party place has handled a “no gifts” kind of party…I’d say a good quarter of the parties we’ve attended over the years have made that request.

So. When you talk to your daughter about her party, explain that she won’t be opening her presents AT the party. Which she wouldn’t do ANYWAY, since they’ll just load anything she gets into your car at the end. She’ll open her presents AFTER the party, at home. Where you can then give her whatever gifts came from grown-up friends and family, or just something small from you.

And at home, I promise you she won’t care if there aren’t a million things to open. As long as she gets something, she’ll be perfectly happy. (And you know she’ll get something, even if you hired a skywriter to broadcast the NO GIFTS PLEASE!! request.)


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Help, My Teen Girl Isn’t Fitting In Fri, 21 Aug 2015 19:12:39 +0000

Got tweens/teens? We’re trying a new advice column here at Alpha Mom to address your questions for the older-kid crowd. We hope you enjoy! And if you have a question to submit, hit me up at alphamomteens[at]gmail[dot]com.


C writes:

By way of background: My 14 year old (who has some struggles with anxiety and depression which are fairly well under control with therapy and medication, but pop up at times—usually when she worries that I may be disappointed or angry with her), has a lovely group of girlfriends. They consider themselves “weird,” not popular girls, and this is a badge of pride for them. They are a crazy, fun bunch and when my girl is with them, she is the best of herself—funny, confident, loud and creative. My girl is also a dancer, taking classes 4-5 days per week and dancing on a team at the same studio. She has known these girls since kindergarten. With them, she is withdrawn, introverted, nose-in-a-book or iPod, and defensive. I take her to the dance competitions and watch the team chatting, laughing, etc., and my girl sitting off to the side by herself. When I ask her about this, she tells me, “They don’t like me.” This may be the case for some of them, although I have only ever seen one be unkind. Rather, most of the girls seem to act as if she’s not there—and it seems like perhaps my girl brought this on herself. I have seen several of the girls reach out to her and she either doesn’t seem to hear them or she rebuffs them quietly. She has 4 more years with this team and loves the dancing part of it. But the social part makes her (and me) miserable—I want to see her being herself the way she is with her girlfriends. When I try to encourage her to talk with the other dancers, join them for a snack or whatever, she hears it as criticism. The kicker is that more than 1/2 of her social group is going to a different school next year. While I know they’ll still text and call, the relationships will change. My girl’s safety net won’t be with her at school. I am worried that she doesn’t know how/doesn’t want to make new friends. How can I encourage her to make new friends, be friendlier with the dance team, get her nose out of the book/iPad and be social without it seeming like criticism? I want her to be the happy, confident girl I see with her friends—even when they aren’t around!

Ohhhhh, this sounds so familiar to me. It can be hard to watch when your child struggles with fitting in, especially when you’ve seen her do it and really blossom under the right circumstances. I really feel you, here. You just want her to be happy, and it seems weird that this situation is so… not.

That said, let me hit you with a few of (I think) important points before getting to the meat of it all.

First: Just because you’ve not seen these girls be mean to her doesn’t mean is hasn’t happened (or isn’t still happening). Maybe you don’t remember (or didn’t have any experiences in this vein), but I’ve seen some teenage girls mastering the art of being (let’s be real here) obnoxious little jerks in the sneakiest of ways. I spent years referring to one of my daughter’s classmates as Eddie Haskell because she was always so delightful to my face while tormenting my kid behind my back. That’s just… what they sometimes do. Furthermore, it’s been my experience that subtle cruelty is, in many ways, harder to bear than more overt meanness, which is often exactly the intent. Maybe no one has knocked her down and taken her lunch money, but in the world of teenage girls, a glance, a snicker, an exchanged whisper… each of those can be devastating. If your daughter says these girls don’t like her, I would assume that something has happened to make her feel that way. It may not be a big deal by our adult standards, but it was to her. She doesn’t feel safe being herself with them right now.

Second: Whether or not she “brought this on herself” (and see above; I suspect she has a good reason for at least the start of her behavior, even if it has since become a bad habit), even if you haven’t used those words with her, of course she’s going to feel defensive if that’s your position. I know you don’t mean it as a criticism, but she will feel like it’s one, and/or that you’re invalidating whatever it was that made her feel like these girls don’t accept her. At the end of the day, you want to help, but you also want her to know you’re on her side. There’s a difference between, “Well you’re just being silly, make these changes and everything will be fine” and “Let’s talk about what you might be able to do to feel more comfortable at dance, because the only person you can control is yourself.” It’s subtle; and again, let me reiterate that I understand you’re not blaming her, but 14 is a hard age, this is a hard situation, and your goal should be to remind her she’s fabulous no matter what.

Third: Is the social part truly making her miserable? I can hear how distressed you are, and I’m sure it’s not fun for her, either, but has she accepted this is how it is or does she complain about it to you? Has she talked about quitting the team? Has there been discussion of finding a different team? Allow me to—ever-so-gently, because this is not a criticism, and it’s something I’ve done a lot, myself—suggest that you may be more upset about this than she is. Maybe. Make sure your Mama Bear instincts aren’t leaping to defend her more than she needs defending, is my point. If she’s truly miserable, by all means, proceed towards a solution. If she’s just… annoyed, or non-plussed… then you should maybe just let it go.

All of that said: If she’s in therapy, hooray, you already have a neutral 3rd party at your disposal to help unravel this problem! (Because you’re Mom, and Mom will always misstep because that’s what we do, and because we’re emotionally invested in the outcome, which doesn’t make for great objectivity.) I would ask for either a family session or a check-in with the therapist to say, “Hey, we have this situation, I’m not sure how concerned I should be, can you address it?” At that point, you have someone who isn’t tied up in it who can ask questions and discuss solutions.

From where I’m sitting, there are multiple possible scenarios:
1) It’s not that bad; she’s okay with how things are right now.
2) It’s pretty bad, but she really loves this studio and doesn’t want to leave.
3) It’s pretty bad, but she feels there’s no other option for dance than this studio.
4) It’s bad and she feels utterly stuck and unable to make any sort of change.

If it’s option 1, you’ll just have to back off and practice your deep breathing when you see her pulling the loner routine at competitions. If it’s 2 or 3, it may be time to start talking about what other logistical options exist—are there any other studios or other kinds of dance she might be willing to explore? And if it’s number 4, well, the therapist will have her work cut out for her/himself. Sometimes trying to take control feels scarier than feeling out of control, and that’s an issue that goes well beyond fitting in at dance class. The bottom line here is about her self-esteem and how she handles difficulty. Maybe with the therapist helping her get to what’s underneath this specific situation, you’ll see a resolution emerge alongside a resilient, more confident kid.

Regardless of the rest, you can do two things while you wait for things to improve: Love the stuffing out of her (I know you already do), and make sure she gets plenty of time with the friends who do bring out the best in her. My son’s closest buddies don’t go to his school, and I fretted endlessly when I saw him keeping to himself. Know what? He’s made some new friends at school, but his old posse is still where he’s most himself. That’s okay! They get together on weekends and text and talk on the phone during the week. I had to let go of my “ideal” and accept he’s figured out what’s working for him.

I’m wishing the very best for you and your daughter. Good luck!


Don’t forget that you can submit your own question to alphamomteens[at]gmail[dot]com.

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Fun Paper and Pencil Snack for Back-to-School Fri, 21 Aug 2015 11:35:22 +0000

My kids don’t start school for another week and I can’t wait. Besides the obvious reasons — Good bye, Constant Bickering! Can’t wait to see you go! — I’m looking forward to making my boys fun lunches and snacks. This Paper & Pencil Snack is a fun one to have waiting when they get home from school. I can’t wait to see their faces when I call them into the kitchen to do their homework and they find something good to eat instead.

Fun Paper and Pencil Snack (supplies) for Back-to-School by Wendy Copley for



  • flour tortilla
  • veggie cream cheese
  • sugar snap peas
  • yellow carrots (orange will work OK too)

You will also need a paring knife, vegetable peeler and blue, red and black food-safe markers.

Fun Paper and Pencil Snack (recipe: step 1) for Back-to-School by Wendy Copley for

Begin by trimming the tortilla into a long rectangle shape.

Fun Paper and Pencil Snack (recipe: step 2) for Back-to-School by Wendy Copley for

Fold it in half, then draw horizontal lines with the blue food-safe marker to resemble a sheet of loose leaf notebook paper.

Fun Paper and Pencil Snack (recipe: step 3) for Back-to-School by Wendy Copley for

Draw a red line vertically — again to mimic a piece of notebook paper. Add three “holes” to the left side to represent holes.

Fun Paper and Pencil Snack (recipe: step 4) for Back-to-School by Wendy Copley for

Unfold the tortilla and spread it with a layer of cream cheese. Chop up a few sugar snap peas and spread them on half of the tortilla. Fold it closed.

This snack works great with other cream cheese and veggie combos too. Try almost any savory flavor of cream cheese, or mix a bit of garlic and herbs into plain cream cheese. For the veggie you can use chopped pepper, grated carrots, sliced tomatoes, radishes or cucumbers. You could even make this with honey cream cheese and sliced fruit.

Fun Paper and Pencil Snack (recipe: step 5) for Back-to-School by Wendy Copley for

Now we’re going to make carrot pencils. I found some yellow carrots which work really well for this, but regular orange carrots would work too. Peel the carrots with a vegetable peeler and cut them into 3 inch chunks.

Fun Paper and Pencil Snack (recipe: step 6) for Back-to-School by Wendy Copley for

Cut the tip of each one into a point, then draw on the tip with the black food-safe marker to make it look like a pencil lead.

Fun Paper and Pencil Snack (tortilla & yellow carrots!) for Back-to-School by Wendy Copley for

Put it all onto a plate and then call your kid into the kitchen to do the tastiest homework of the school year!

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Ready, Set, Road Trip: Preparing is a Labor (Day) of Love Thu, 20 Aug 2015 14:12:03 +0000

Many thanks to Huggies for helping us tell this story.

Long weekends are lovely. But seeing Labor Day come up on the calendar is a reminder that summer is coming too quickly to a close. This Labor Day is our very first adventure with baby Grace, so we’re heading to my parents’ lake house in Middle of Nada, Indiana. There, cell phone reception is awful, cable channels are laughable, and none of that matters anyway because the sky will rise brilliant gold from an endless star-spotted black and the water will send shivers up the spine, we will see sunning turtles and marks from the beaver on the fallen tree.

(credit: Jessica Ashley)

(credit: Jessica Ashley)

But first, the road trip

My son E and I have traveled tens of thousands of miles together across time zones. We’re not only practiced trip preparers, we actually love all the laundry and list-making that goes into traveling.

It begins with a list

I love a list handwritten in Sharpie with stars and arrows and my son’s silly doodles to remind us of everything we absolutely, positively cannot forget. Cell phone chargers. The woobies a certain kid cannot sleep without cuddling. The first-aid kit. Just enough cash. The white noise machine for the other little light sleeper. Sunscreen. AND DIAPERS. We can pinch hit if we forget jammies, but we must always have a supply of diapers. A Costco-size supply.

(credit: Jessica Ashley)

(credit: Jessica Ashley)

When I travel, I stock up on the same premium diapers at an affordable price that I use every day —  new Huggies Little Movers Plus Diapers that are available only at Costco. That big box in the back of the car soothes any worries about running out of the baby necessities, and these ultra soft, extra-absorbent diapers with a Trusted Leak Lock system take care of my girl while I’m keeping my eye on the road. Plus, a pre-road trip Costco stop means we will also never run out of pita chips and black licorice, either.

huggies 8


I also stock a grab-and-go pack of Huggies Little Movers Plus Diapers and Huggies Natural Care Plus Wipes  —available only at Costco–  which are thicker and more durable and made with Huggies simplest formula of 99% water. As most of us who’ve traveled with sweaty toddlers know, wipes are also great for gooey fingers and faces. This pack is my key to convenient public restroom stops and quick changes in the car (and makes a super-soft pillow for Grace’s precious head on plastic changing tables). My pack is made of cloth, but a zipper plastic bag works just fine, too.

huggies 5

(Credit: Jessica Ashley)

Pack early and edit often

A friend with twins once told me that smart travel with kids begins by packing a week before the trip and taking two items out of the suitcase every day. I’m not that regimented, but I do laundry well in advance, pulling out anything there’s any chance we’ll need. The big heap of (what I think are) must-haves is always just the visual I need to really edit it down. I revisit the stacks regularly, refolding and organizing and pulling out anything questionable until there’s some breathing room in each bag.

(credit: Jessica Ashley)

(credit: Jessica Ashley)

Totes smart totes

For road trips, I divvy up everything into sturdy canvas tote bags. One for each of us, one for the beach, one for snacks, one to slide in the backseat with books and toys, one full of clean-up and emergency supplies I can access easily. It’s simpler than zipping and unzipping suitcases that are hard to haul in and out of the car. My diaper bag has a pocket that serves as my purse (one less bag!), so Grace and I are both set when we venture out.

Choose tote bags for easier organization, hauling and stashing on family road trips. Plus, if you need an extra bag, you've got one! (Credit: Jessica Ashley)

(Credit: Jessica Ashley)

There’s a lot we won’t be able to — or want to — control when we finally pull up to the lake house. There might be missed naps and mosquito bites, and there will definitely be messes and daily mayhem. Letting go of schedules and worries about what it should be is part of the fun of the holiday. But to get there, to that magical moment when Grandpa balances precariously in the paddle boat and the baby shrills to feel toes in the sand and E lands an amazing cannonball off the pier and I forget what day or time it is, I need to know that my kids are safe, healthy and have what they need. That’s why all the packing isn’t leading up to the big adventure, but preparation is the beginning of it for me. With each tucked-in swimsuit and, yes, even pack of diapers and wipes, I’m signaling my busy mama brain that all the good stuff is happening. It’s already in motion.

What will this first mama-two kids Labor Day road trip hold? We shall see! I hope we all delight in the moment, for a few fun firsts and that we feel the good kind of exhaustion. And for those moments, we will be completely prepared.

This post is sponsored by Huggies. All tips and opinions are my own.

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Nap Battles: The Premature Two-Naps-to-One Kid Wed, 19 Aug 2015 12:54:54 +0000


First things first, I have a minor fan girl crush on your column, pregnancy calendar and blog. EEEeee!! :-)

I really hate bothering you while moving (we’re military and moving suuuuuuuucks), but I’m sitting outside crying into my coffee so I don’t have to hear my baby cry for naptime.

She’ll be one in October. She’s never been a great napper, but following Ferber and Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child we managed to get two solid naps a day and she sleeps wonderfully at night. STILL sleeps wonderfully at night (although I now expect that the change since I’m telling the world).

Naptime on the other hand is a nightmare. I can’t think of anything I haven’t tried. Since she turned 8 months, she will.not.nap. Our sleepy routine is a diaper change (low light), snuggle into sleep sack, short rock and a song and then off to bed! We had no problems or issues until she learned to roll, sit up, crawl and move around.

Now I put her down for a nap and all she does is move. Like a demon has taken over her motor functions and will not let her lay down to sleep. I’ve tried leaving her to cry (two hours was my limit), laying her back down every time she got up (two hours was my limit), bouncing/rocking/singing to her until she was asleep (two hours was my limit), wrapping her (two hours was my limit — seeing a trend?), getting her up and keeping her up until her next nap (she didn’t take that next nap either), moving her naps back by an hour (still didn’t sleep), moving her naps up (nope!) and on and one.

Like I said, I’m at the point of going outside with coffee and a video monitor and crying. We’re not having any fun during the day because she is so stinking tired.

She will not sleep in the car either. I’ve been following the 2,3,4 schedule but as of now, her bedtime is 6PM (and inching closer to 5:30) and I don’t relish the idea of her getting up at 6AM or earlier with no naps through the day. As of now, she does sleep from about 6PM until about 6:30AM with two night wakings to eat. She does go right back to sleep.

I’m sorry this is all over the place, but she is wearing me out. Please. I need more ideas or something!


Okay. Let’s start off with some MATH.

Your daughter is sleeping for 12.5 hours at night, and “inching closer” to 13 straight hours. That’s fantastic! That’s also your problem.

I mean, not really, but also, kind of. ON AVERAGE, babies your daughter’s age will sleep around 11 or 11.5 hours at night. Naps bring total sleep up to around 14 hours. But this isn’t some solid set-in-stone thing — some babies sleep more, some (okay, many) sleep less.

So with 12.5 to 13 hours of her sleep coming in one long unbroken chunk at night, I actually am not surprised AT ALL that she’s not napping consistently or significantly. With that much sleep at night, it’s probably unrealistic to expect her to take two really long naps during the day. She might not be the best candidate for 2-3-4 because after 13 hours of sleep, unless you’re keeping her CRAZY busy in the first two hours of her day, she’s probably not the least bit tired! And trying to force a nap anyway (and letting it routinely turn into a two-hour power struggle), is just an exercise in futility. Kid won’t sleep. You can’t make her sleep. She’s furious that you’re trying to make her sleep when SHE DOESN’T WANT TO SLEEP. But the struggle itself is stressful and the fighting and constant UP and DOWN and BACK UP is probably wearing her out, so then she ends up overtired and cranky.

Am I suggesting you let her become some kind of all-day napless wonder? Hell no. She does need a nap. A. Nap. Singular.

I know! I KNOW! She’s too young! The books and the Googles and the old lady at the grocery store all say two naps at this age! But the reality is that MOST babies who are taking two naps are not sleeping as long at night as your daughter. Maybe 10/11 hours.

Basically, your daughter has absorbed one of her naps into her overnight sleep. So you should probably only expect one nap during the day. This isn’t that unusual, although she’s just on the young side for the two-naps-to-one transition. She’s probably been trying to make the transition ever since 8 months but you wouldn’t let her because DUH, why would you? She’s only 8 months old! Take a nap, child. And then take another one!

So…try it. You said she skipped both naps if you gave up on the first, but only AFTER an extended struggle in her crib. So what would happen if you didn’t even try for a morning nap, and then moved the “second” nap to right after lunchtime?  (If you’re skittish, maybe aim 20 minutes of “quiet time” in her crib mid-morning…with lots of books and toys and no interference from you or insisting that she lie down or be still.)

In my three-time experience with the two-naps-to-one transition, the one-nap schedule was blissfully freeing (once I finally stopped fighting for two naps!). All morning to go do stuff! Fun stuff! Errands stuff! Then home for lunch and down for a nap…that actually lasted pretty darn long, because they were finally far enough away from that refreshing nighttime sleep to really NEED a nap.

I can’t promise that even if she takes one nap a day that it will be a significant one — again, that 12.5/13 hours at night means she might only “need” an hour during the day. (Again, that 14 total hours of sleep time is just as average.) But I think you both need a break and a reset from this twice-a-day nap battle no matter what. You’re both miserable and crying and the end result is the same: SHE’S NOT TAKING A FREAKING NAP. So…try skipping the 2-hours-after-waking nap and move the afternoon nap to right after lunch. Maybe lunch will need to move up to prevent overtiredness, so play around with it for a few days before giving up.

(Unless it starts messing with her nights. You definitely don’t want to mess up the nights in pursuit of an hour nap.)

(Also, if you don’t have them already: Blackout curtains.)

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Motherhood (And Personhood) In Flux Tue, 18 Aug 2015 14:52:53 +0000

I can remember—back when my first baby was still very much a baby—sitting around with other new moms and discussing how much we missed uninterrupted sleep. And I remember going to work, during the same time period, and trying to convince my (mostly male) coworkers that everything was fine, great, having a baby hadn’t even broken my stride, I’ll have that report to you by the end of the day, and yes, okay, that is a little bit of spit-up on my shoulder. I remember “preschool playdates” where we all let our kids run around in an energetic, knuckle-dimpled horde, and we moms sat there drinking coffee and nursing babies and throwing juice pouches in their direction every so often. “It’s just constant,” we would murmur to one another. “Someone always needs something.”

And then I remember realizing that my kids could clean and dress themselves, ask for what they needed instead of screaming, and even prepare food, if necessary; furthermore, both of them were gone for the bulk of the day at school, and I could breathe. It was time to rediscover what mattered to me, and also to figure out a way to make a decent living. Realizing that my lifelong writing hobby could become a career—and then making it happen—felt unreal. There were still never enough hours in the day and I was never as patient as wished to be, but somehow everything worked, between the kids, the house, my work, and everything else.

Having two kids with special needs and then years of bonus mental health struggles meant that as they grew older and my friends were all relishing their kids’ burgeoning independence, I was often feeling like we were going backward. My kids needed me more when everyone else’s seemed to need them less, and I would love to say I handled this with grace and unwavering acceptance, but I didn’t. It felt unfair. Everything suffered, from the state of my house to my marriage to my work to—worst of all—the kids. There were years where every decision felt wrong and I was sure I was ruining both of their lives, despite my best intentions.

This past spring I was laid off from a demanding job I loved, around the same time various Kid Issues seemed to be reaching critical mass. Rather than reacting (read: freaking out) I found a rare moment of Zen: It was time for a break. I would stop, and breathe, and instead of loading my plate to where it toppled, I would just… handle what was already on it, without adding anything for a while. My husband and I discussed it and decided that I would, essentially, take the summer off, in terms of finding new work. (I still have some freelancing going on, just not as much as I used to.) We’re fortunate to be in a position where this wouldn’t be detrimental, financially, and working just a fraction of my previous hours for a few months would be okay. I felt guilty—I always feel guilty—but I also felt an enormous sense of relief.

Over the summer we picked berries, swam, read lots of books, hung out, watched too much TV, and strategized for the coming year. By the time school resumed, last week, I found myself doing a double-take any time I caught sight of either kid. Both of them seemed to grow and mature at a fantastic rate over the last few months. They’re not just adult-sized, they’re both in a really good place in terms of their own comfort with themselves and what they want. My daughter, the senior, has her first choice college picked out and her application completed. Working this summer gave her a taste of the independence she’s always craved, and she is more organized, more responsible, and (best of all) just plain happier. This weekend she worked ahead in several classes “just to stay on top of things,” and if you heard a distant angel chorus, that’s probably why. My son, the junior, whose first-year marching band experience last year was… challenging, let’s say… breezed through band camp this year and reassured newbies that they’ll get the hang of it. He has friends in every single class, which is a huge shift from last year, when halfway through the year he couldn’t tell me the names of anyone around him. And when he encountered a small issue in one class, he handled it himself. No biggie. (Except for us, it’s a huge biggie.)

Do they still bicker over nothing and complain when I ask them to unload the dishwasher? Yep. They’re still teenagers, after all. But it’s all… blessedly normal.

Now it’s time for me to figure out what’s next. It’s unsettling. What do I want at this point? I’m not sure. I look around to my friends, again, and I see so many of us prepping for that promised empty nest with (intentional or not) plenty of career and life changes afoot. One friend just left her job of 20-something years to take a new position, and is still trying to find her footing. Another just went back to college after twenty years at home with her kids. One more is dusting off her resume and wondering if she should keep job-searching or get an advanced degree, first. Yet another didn’t intend to make a change, but was reassigned in her current job and must adapt to new demands, right at the same time she’s just sent her oldest off to college. It feels like we’re all in flux, not just because our kids are growing up, but because we’re changing, too; and as we gather and talk about our new paths, there is this pervasive undertone of wonder—how did we get here? How did our kids get so big, how did our jobs change, how did we get so old, how do we know when we get it right?? We don’t have a lot of answers, but at least it’s nice to know we’re not alone.

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Single Mom Dating: The Truth About Dating Apps Mon, 17 Aug 2015 12:54:00 +0000

This week I logged into the one dating app I’ve used on and off lately, and then quickly deleted it, deciding to sign up for a writing class instead. My energy and passion better spent in crafting a story than finding a partner.

These are not the times for deep, intimate relationships.

Part of me feels like it’s karma biting me in the ass for my superficial youth, never really fully committing to anyone, at least in my head, anyway.

Little did I know that when I was actually ready to trust and feel vulnerable in a relationship that the pickins would be so slim. So bleak.

It’s no different for us near or plus-40-with-kids folks than it is for the youngsters highlighted in a recent Vanity Fair article about the current culture of dating.

If anything, reading it will make you suddenly thankful for your spouse or partner. Except if you’re single like me.

Then you’ll just be nodding your head.

My experience has been exactly like those 20 and 30-somethings, which is to say that it’s all more like a game than anything else.

Most people juggle three to four dating apps at a time, with matches on any given one not really an indication of anything more than a physical attraction usually based on terrible selfies and badly-lit photos.

It’s hardly a special connection of any kind, just a way for many people to get an ego boost, or perhaps a hook-up, some lasting months and months with no actual relationship in sight even though you might be exclusive. Or so you think.

If something seems off, or you don’t like an outfit she’s wearing, or something he said, you can, in an instant (pretty much literally), find someone else who’s thinks you’re cute and meet up with them in a matter of minutes.

And if not her, or him, then someone else.

This is, as you might guess, extremely time consuming, and disconcerting.

I’m just no competition for the instant gratification that’s perpetuating a dating and relationship ADHD. I give myself 100%, sometimes more, to pretty much everything I do, so to spend my days offering up 20-25% of myself to a bunch of random strangers just doesn’t feel right.

There’s no time for feelings anymore, no opportunities for little flubs or bad hair days, the imperfections that make a long lasting relationship special (or so I’ve heard and seen from friends). There are other matches surely awaiting you, perhaps better than what you might have right now, most not even getting a chance to do anything but say hi. If that.

Most disturbing for me, however, is that the back burner is always lit, burning ever so lightly. The door is left open, even if it’s just a crack, no one ever really committing to anything completely. Apps might be off their phone or tablet, but their accounts can still be active, just a simple click or desktop login to check and see who’s swiped them right.

And look, I don’t expect exclusivity from anyone on the first, fourth, or heck, even the 10th date. But there’s something disheartening about being with someone for a few months and still seeing dating app alerts popping up on their phone like it’s first date Groundhog Day and the time you’ve spent together, sometimes the significant time you’ve spent, doesn’t really seem to mean anything at all. Like they’re just treading water because the commitment of swimming to one side of the pool would kill them.

The excitement and the newness feels like it will always win, especially as I approach 40 with four kids to care for full time.

But the truth is, it never actually will.

We seasoned daters or in my case, divorcees, know that the new car smell wears off at some point. But these days, people don’t give themselves a chance to enjoy the broken-in seats. Or brush off the bit of dust on the dashboard.

They just trade-in for a newer model, or keep a few parked across the street, waiting for a lonely night, or just a speck of boredom to take them for a spin.

And well, I’m just too special for that. We all are, really. It’s just that some of us figure that out more quickly than others.

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The Satter Method & Sick Kids Fri, 14 Aug 2015 14:15:22 +0000

Hi Amy! Long time reader of both this column and your blog. I’ll just dive right into my issue:

T just turned four (we also have a ten month old), and for the last two years we’ve struggled with the food thing. We’ve been doing this Satter thing, albeit imperfectly (our work schedules make regular family dinners challenging), and we have seen minor improvement.

We’ve also been struggling mightily with potty training (he’s still fully in diapers). We finally figured out that the real culprit here is idiopathic constipation and encopresis. We got an abdominal x-ray and little buddy has a fecal impaction and is backed up six ways to Sunday. We suspect he’s been constipated for ages, at least a year, but possibly since he fully weaned at 21 months. Poor little dude.

Besides the obvious issues this causes, it can also cause stomachaches and alter appetite. I’m thinking our meal problems may not really be power struggles at all, but that he’s just too full of poop to fit any food inside. Of course he doesn’t want to eat when he feels awful all the time!

Anyway, now we know what’s going on and we have a treatment plan. However, this involves buttloads (ha!) of laxatives and trying to get lots of mineral oil into him with his food. Which he doesn’t eat. Because of course. So I’ve been going rogue lately, letting him eat whenever he will because I’m trying to get his meds into him, and also because I know his appetite is all out of whack from his constipation. But now I’m worried I’m ruining his food habits again before we even got them fixed, and help me please!

- FOS, literally

Yeah, I think the specifics of your situation require some input from a medical professional. I would HOPE that in light of your son’s diagnosis, his doctors gave you some guidance on diet and how it might fit into a long-term treatment plan. If they did NOT (or if it was completely unrealistic/unhelpful), find a dietitian. Preferably one who specializes in young children with medical issues. Ask your pediatrician for help finding one. A lot of children’s hospitals have programs for kids who need therapeutic diets or have other eating/feeding challenges. Your son might qualify for one given 1) how long his issues have been lurking. and 2)  your ongoing difficulties in getting him to eat pretty much anything, much less the kinds of high-fiber foods he’ll need to prevent the issues from returning/continuing.

(I repeat: a DIETITIAN. Not a nutritionist. Here’s a rundown of the differences between the two.)

I SUSPECT, though, that while a dietitian will be helpful, they will echo some of what I’m about to say: Just do your best. Do what you can. Getting his meds into him is Priority One right now. Calories (in whatever form he’ll take ‘em) is probably Priority Two. At some point, once the current impaction is worked out, you’ll want to focus on a therapeutic diet high in the right kind of fiber and enough nutritional variety to prevent another one. (And if you need to get the fiber and nutrition in him via sneaky methods, like smoothies and hidden veggies/supplements in kid-acceptable dishes, SO BE IT.)

But the ability to have him sit at the dinner table and eat whatever you put in front of him without question? Yeah. That can probably stay low on the list for awhile.

Your little guy still isn’t feeling 100%. He probably doesn’t even remember what it’s LIKE to feel 100%. For a long time, he’s likely equated food and eating and meals with feeling sick and bloated and yucky. That’s going to take some time to undo. Remember that the #1 step/goal of Ellyn Satter’s method is to MAKE MEALTIMES PLEASANT. Your son’s poor little body has made this all but impossible for a very long time.

So I would step back and focus on making food in general to be something pleasant for him. I’d  personally probably pause the Full Satter goal until he’s feeling better, but again, a dietitian will probably give you more informed guidance.

At some point in his life, he’ll be mature enough to grasp that while he would love to eat nothing but overly ripe bananas and white rice, these foods don’t agree with him and make him feel yucky. Little kids seem to lack this cause-and-effect understanding, unfortunately. So I’d eye his current “acceptable” foods for opportunities to sneak in extra fiber and vitamins, Sneaky Chef style. (If you haven’t bought any of the Sneaky Chef cookbooks, do it. We eat most of our meals as a family but when I do make “kid dinners” I absolutely employ her techniques to boost the nutritional content of kid-friendly fare.)

But at the end of the day, if you’ve managed to get his medicine and a somewhat decent amount of calories into him (and managed to do both without a power struggle), consider it a success. Even if the calories were mostly nugget-based and the medicine went down with a spoonful of sugar. (Solid advice from OG Mary P.)



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