Wednesday, September 6, 2017

my two cents on "potty training"

I'm not a potty training expert, and don't claim to be. My experience is limited to my own two children, which is far from a reasonable sample size.

But my experience with potty training has been very positive overall (!!!), and I'd love to support other parents in what is often (or is often viewed as) a difficult and stressful process. 

My first, and most important, piece of advice is to buy the ebook "Three day potty training," by Lora Jensen. The author IS an expert, and her method is very straight forward, gentle, and effective. We followed this ebook to a T with both kids. I cannot recommend it enough. The Kindle version is $7.99-- you seriously can't beat that! Totally worth every single cent. 

Based on the ebook and my own experience potty training Charlotte and Asher, here's what I think are the most important ideas. 

1. "Readiness" is overrated. I decided to train both of my kids at times that worked for our family. It was summer, Joel had flexible hours, the weather was great so we could be outside, my friends were in town and could help with childcare, and we didn't have any big commitments or travel plans. Both Charlotte and Asher could communicate their needs/ wants and both were able to recognize when their diaper was poopy (and could verbalize when they were actually pooping!! ha!). Based on some reading, it seems that 20-30 months is the ideal time to potty train. Charlotte was exactly 30 months and Asher was just over 22 months. *I definitely wouldn't suggest going past the 30 month range-- for us, the 2.5-3 year window brought lots of defiance, which doesn't lend itself to learning such a big skill.* We had very little resistance from Asher at his young age. He's been very willing to use the potty and very enthusiastic about telling us when he has to go. I'd say it was actually easier to train him because he was so eager to please and willing to come along with me for things. Based just on my two kids, I absolutely don't support the sentiment that boys are harder to train-- frankly, I think the only thing more difficult is making sure to aim correctly so there's not a mess of urine all around the toilet. Ha! 

2. Go cold turkey. Don't use pull-ups. Don't switch back and forth based on circumstances or location. Just stay home for a week so you can control the setting and not be anxious about accidents in public places. Accidents are absolutely vital to success in potty training-- kids must feel wet and recognize the necessity of keeping their underwear dry. Pull-ups do not help with this recognition; they feel like diapers. Also, a tip-- roll up your rugs and lock the door on carpeted rooms! Hardwood floors and tile are your BFFs during potty training. ;)

(*A note about our family: Charlotte was 2.5 years old when we trained her, and we did underwear at nap time and bedtime from the beginning. She woke up with a wet bed for three nights, then consistently got herself up to pee and went right back to bed/ sleep. Some nights she woke up to pee twice. She never went back to diapers and we didn't consider pull-ups at all. Just recently she started sleeping many nights all the way through, without waking to use the bathroom at all, but most nights she will use the bathroom once. Asher was under two years when we trained him, and the nights didn't go as smoothly. For a full week we put undies on him at bedtime, and he would wet his underwear but keep sleeping, then wake up hours later wet and cold and mad. It interrupted his (and our!) sleep dramatically. We tried many things, like partially waking him at our bedtime to pee, or partially waking him around 1am to try. None of those things worked, so we started putting one of his cloth diapers on at bedtime. He doesn't like it and asks for underwear, but it's made his sleep much easier. Sometimes he wakes up dry, but not always. I'd say in the last 14 days he's woken up dry at least 11, which is pretty good. We will try without underwear again after I travel to visit my parents, but with time changes and new sleeping arrangements for that trip, it doesn't make sense to rock the nighttime boat right now. My point in all of this is to try going cold turkey, following the directions of this ebook exactly. If nights don't work out, you can adapt. But your child might surprise you and be ready for 24-7 undies much sooner than you'd expect!*)

3. Get full time childcare for your other children during the three days of training. This is a big challenge, and probably the hardest part of potty training this way is adjusting the rhythm of the whole family, especially siblings who aren't being trained. But it was ESSENTIAL to my success, both times. Sometimes a long weekend is a great time to train, because one parent can do the full time training while the other takes care of other children and does the laundry, meal prep, errands, and household chores. We chose to train during a work week for Joel so we didn't have to sacrifice our weekends as a family, but it worked because he had shorter work hours and could be home in the early morning and late afternoon, and because I have friends who stay at home full time and who could add my kid to their household life for a few hours at a time.

4. Cut everything else out of your schedule for at least three days. We didn't leave home at all during the beginning of training, and after those three days we carefully picked outings where toilets were easily accessible, where I could give the training child my full attention, and where there were no carpets to ruin ;)! I didn't cook much, or clean at all (except doing laundry galore!!). We had a frozen lasagna for dinner one night and takeout another. Joel did a lot of the housework and fully cared for the non-potty training child when he was not at work.

5. Be consistent. This is a good parenting principal in general, but one I find to be very difficult sometimes. But deciding right away that we weren't going to use pull-ups and just dealing calmly with accidents proved to be amazingly effective, and also empowering to the kids. Lora Jensen, the author of the ebook, emphasizes consistency, and I think it's absolutely essential to the potty training process, especially if you want to have it be effective and relatively short. 

6. Say, "Tell me when you have to go potty. Let me know when you have to pee. Keep your underwear dry. Tell me when you need to go!" a hundred million times a day, for a long, long time. To me, this phrase and this attitude completely eliminates the power struggles that often are associated with potty training. Giving children ownership by using this phrase (and following Lora Jensen's ebook EXACTLY ;) ) really puts the ball in their court and teaches them to identify their own need to use the bathroom. These days, I know Asher will need to use the bathroom every couple of hours, so I ask him and remind him and encourage him to go, in hopes of avoiding an accident while he's playing intently in the backyard. BUT during the three days of training I never set a timer to tell him he needed to go, I never said, "You need to try!!! Sit on the potty!!," etc., because that can so often lead to anger and frustration and a major conflict with toddler emotions and their desire for control. (As all parents can attest, am I right?!) 

Finally, 6. Get a lot of underwear. I would say 15-20 pairs, and then do a load of laundry partway through the day so some of the wet undies get cleaned right away. My friend lent me some that her son didn't really like using anymore, and we added those to our stash. It was such a relief to know that the accidents were going to happen in order for learning to occur, but that we had plenty in the house. I even bought one extra package that we didn't open and I returned later, but it was nice to have a peace of mind that they were there if necessary. Asher's been trained for less than a month, and very rarely has an accident, so we aren't going through more than one pair of undies most days, but it was totally worth the money to buy extras for the first week of training. 

Questions? Comments? Criticism? ;) Let's converse below! 

Sunday, August 27, 2017

living simply: toys we love

Last year I wrote about some of our favorite things. Most of those were things we had around the house, and I'm a firm believer that kids will play with any old thing, if given the time and opportunity to be creative.

But! But, having a few really good toys is a great privilege, and one I do not take for granted as I care for two young children. Most of these are made to last, and though some are fairly expensive, I definitely think they are worth the cost. In no particular order, here are the toys we love.

1. Magna Tiles. I cannot recommend these enough. I think everyone should own these, and the more the better, in my opinion. Charlotte and Asher have had these for at least nine months, and they have been used in so, so many ways. For awhile we were building giant towers that Charlotte said were animal hospitals. They had garages and potties and parking lots. These days, both kids call them "ice cream" and Charlotte sorts them by colors and puts them in her "freezer," while Asher carries the triangular ones around pretending to lick them. We also use Magna Tiles along with our wooden barn and farm animals to make "cow houses" for Asher, who loves to drive a little tractor around his farm.

2. Play kitchen. This is BY FAR the most used toy in our home. Joel's dad made ours from an old TV stand when Charlotte was tiny, and she definitely dominates it so much that Asher really only gets a chance once she's asleep. ;) But we love it so, so much, and it's worth its weight in gold for how many playtime hours have been spent in creative play there. I also recommend some play food, and some other kitchen supplies, preferably wooden or metal since plastic gets kind of gross and also is easily smushed by not-so-careful toddler hands. (On my wishlist for the kids: this adorable wooden tea set)

3. Doll house and/ or wooden barn. I'm planning to make a doll house using this cool tutorial. Our neighbors asked us to store their giant doll house for a few months, and my kids played with it a lot. However, it was so big that it got difficult to store once they lost interest and I really think kids get tired of staring at unused toys after a while. Once I make ours, I plan to move it around to different parts of the house, and eventually I will retire it to use as a regular old bookshelf. I also plan to buy just a few pieces of furniture; another friend has a cool house but there are SO many pieces of furniture that someone Asher's age can easily get overwhelmed and just not play with it at all.

We bought this classic wooden barn from another neighbor's garage sale, and along with this set of animals from Asher's first birthday, it has gotten a lot of use. There's SO much creative play that can come with well-made, basic toys.

4. Schleich animals. We asked Asher's grandparents to give him a set of animals for his birthday and they've gotten a lot of use. There are sooooo many cool Schleich animals on Amazon, so do a bit of searching to find ones that your kids would like best. I hope to expand our collection in the coming years (this wildlife set looks awesome!).

5. Outdoor toys: swing set, kiddie pool, Strider balance bike. (Note: we have this balance bike in green and it took a loooooong time for Charlotte to love it. But we all persevered, and now she's definitely ready for a pedal bike. I'm just feeling intimidated about deciding which to buy!)

*Let me say that we have A LOT more toys than this in our house.. Mostly because people give us toys, which can be good and bad. Good because it's nice to have free stuff, but also bad (sometimes very bad) because-- as I said in my last post about simplicity with kids-- there's a lot of junk that disguises itself as children's toys, and some things we've been given aren't good quality and don't get used. I try to move things out and pass them along if they aren't beautiful or useful or well-loved.

But it's not always easy. Both of my kids adore stuffed animals (which I can't really stand!) and they use them and I just can't de-stash those darn things as much as I'd like, since they love and use them a lot. Also, I bought two used sets of Littlest Pet Shop toys (which are plastic and gaudy and not beautiful at all!) from my neighbor (for $3!!) and gave them to Charlotte for Christmas last year. She has spent countless hours playing with those things, and Asher really likes them as well. So there's that. Ha! :) BUT I'm so, so glad I bought those used and didn't pay full price!

Now let's share! What are the most loved and used toys in your home? Do you have any of these that my kiddos love? 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

A time for listening, and a time for speaking up

About nine months ago I started listening to Upside Down Podcast. I can't quite remember how I found it, except that the Internet and social media are a tangled, mixed-up web, and one thing (or one blogger) leads to another :)  I think the timing lined up with this past presidential election, a season of shock and disgust for me personally, and of tumult and unrest for our country overall. Sadly, it took that election and the immediate aftermath to snap me to attention.

The first few episodes of Upside Down Podcast hit me hard.

The hosts were discussing poverty and race and the Church in ways I had never considered, mostly because my own experience and education are rooted in my own privilege. Anyway, I listened. I prayed and I thought and I listened some more. I shared aloud with Joel a little, but mostly I tried hard to listen. And to listen well, with ears and a heart that were ready to be softened and convicted and challenged.

The last nine months, for me, have been a season of listening, and of coming to understand (a teeny, tiny bit) the reality of racism and poverty and marginalization in our country. The reality of the role I have as Christian, and as a parent of the next generation of Americans. Though I desperately want to change hearts, and actions, all over, I have the most influence on the heart attitudes of my own children and those within my personal community.

So. The time for me to speak up is now. I have listened and will continue to listen and learn.

But I know enough to be confident that I cannot be silent, and carry on as usual. I must speak to my children, and those within my sphere of influence, about God's word and what it says about people and how Jesus came live and die and rise again... to set them (us) all free. I must be honest about our country's history of prejudice, and I must expose my kids to the beauty of diversity as much as I can. I must tell them that racist acts and attitudes like we witnessed in Charlottesville this week are despicable in the eyes of the Lord. I must guide them toward seeking justice and looking out for the downtrodden of society, and for those in their lives who need an ally or an advocate or a friend.

There is so little I can do; one person in one family in one small, mostly white, suburban town.

But my children and my friends and my children's friends should see in me the love of Jesus.

They should see in me a heart that is open to hearing hard truth.

They should see in me a mind that is willing to confess my own sin and my own role in calling racism what it is, and in stopping the spread of hateful attitudes and acts toward people of color.

I've compiled a list of great resources below, particularly for Jesus followers who may be in the place I was nine months ago or the place I am in today.

These folks are clear and relevant. They've been incredibly helpful to me as I wrestle through the things I've learned, and especially following the events of this past weekend.

1. Upside Down Podcast (My favorite episode is their interview about "The Talk" that black people give their children, with Tyler Burns, which aired last December. Search for it right away. So eye opening!)
2. This sermon, given by a friend of mine who pastors a church in suburban New Jersey.
3. A poignant article by Jemar Tisby, a man I've recently started listening to (on another great podcast, Pass the Mic)
4. A personal, practical blog post (the author writes as a mother of black, and white, children)

Sunday, August 13, 2017

on living simply, with children

I cannot count the number of times I've heard this statement: "My kids don't play with their toys. They make messes, and make noise, and their toys are all over the house, but they don't really PLAY with any of them."

This is so, so common. It's very sad, and, I think, a serious problem with our culture as a whole, and with my generation of parents and children specifically. Let's chat about the issue a little.

First, two great resources for anyone interested in dealing with this problem directly:
1. The Simple Families website and podcast.
2. The book, Simplicity Parenting, by Kim John Payne.  

Second, this is one of my own personal "soapbox" topics. I feel extremely passionate about raising kids well, and (probably because of my background in education) I'm hyper-sensitive to the positive/negative affects that parenting choices have on children in their present and future lives. I think simplicity is important, but also really, really difficult.

Third, this is not in itself an issue of real spiritual significance. As a follower of Jesus, there are some absolutes that I hold onto without question. This is not one. Though I think creating a safe, creative, simple space for children is valuable, it doesn't in itself point them to the cross of Christ, and thus, this topic of conversation isn't an absolute for me.  The issues of biblical simplicity, in the sense of sharing things in a community, and living with less, and giving to the poor, are different than what I'm writing about now. Though maybe they can be a discussion here some day, now that I'm thinking of it... :)

Alright, so with those three important notes, here are some ideas and points that I've been mulling over in the last year. Some will be their own separate blog posts in coming days (or months.) I'd love to continue the conversation in the comments below, if you'd like. :)

  • There are many things that are awesome for babies and children to have. And there are many, many things that make parenting easier (hello, high chairs and baby food pouches!). But, there are many, many, many things that are absolute junk. They clutter up our houses and our children's minds. And this clutter, this excess, actually becomes a serious imposition to children developing the way they should... children in general aren't spending enough time outside, are watching way too much TV, and are failing to learn basic life skills such as independent play, sharing, conflict resolution, and problem solving. Teachers notice. Grandparents notice. The society as a whole notices. And we parents often notice, but we aren't sure what to do to combat the problem. This includes me. I'm not speaking typing in judgement here-- I'm working through this in my own home, and with my own family. But as parents, we are our children's protectors and their advocates. For their good, and for the good of future generations, we need to combat this culture of excess and waste and general overwhelm. 
  • I cannot recommend the book Simplicity Parenting enough. It is so, so practical and relevant and wise. 
  • Some future blog post ideas: great toys that we love and use and highly (highly!) recommend; how I've set up / how I maintain a relatively simple home (and life) for our children; how we spend our time and develop a simple schedule for our family; activities and creative play that my kids do regularly; conversations to have with children regarding our choices toward simplicity. What else? Leave post ideas below!
  • Bonus! A few ladies who lean toward a simple way of parenting, and whose blogs I really love... Lindsay Kubly, Erin Boyle, and Erin Loechner

Thursday, August 10, 2017

back to blogging. and, Amazon links


There's no easy way to jump back into blogging after six months. I don't have much in the way of an explanation, except that 1. I don't want to add to the noise that often IS the internet, so I found myself at a loss for (written) words, and 2. the blogger app is terrible and doesn't work on my phone or ipad, which are the only two devices we use regularly at home.

So, there we have it. Explanation done and done.

Well... also, I have two kids. And another on the way. (Yes, that is my way of announcing that Baby 'Berts #3 is on the way. Most readers probably know already, and somehow, sadly, the third child doesn't end up with as much fanfare as his/her siblings. Healthy dose of reality for us all. :) ) I will share more about this new little life sometime in the near future, but for now let's just say that though he/she gets forgotten in the chaos of life with other kids, he/she was very much hoped and prayed for, and we are absolutely delighted to be adding another bean to our bunch.

Now, on to the second bit from the title of this post. I've signed up to be a part of Amazon associates, which I hope will generate a (teeny, tiny) bit of income from this hobby of blogging. I think that if I post links to things that we love, or that I would recommend, through this blog, I can earn a little bit of money back if those items are purchased by any of you. I haven't tried yet, and I really don't expect this endeavor to be at all lucrative, but I wanted to be upfront about that right away. At no cost to you, Amazon might give back a little bitty bit to me, and to my growing family. We use Amazon A LOT, and expect many of you do as well, so let's all benefit from this part of the system.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Charlotte: three years old!

I know every parent feels the same, but I cannot believe how fast time is flying. I can look at photos from Charlotte's birth, or her first few days of life, and feel like they were taken just yesterday. My baby girl just turned three, and I can't believe it!!

Charlotte is a growing girl. Her shoe size is between and 8.5 and a 9. Her old sneakers (size 8) are too tight but the next size I have (9.5) are definitely too big. We're still needing boots pretty regularly, so hopefully she fits into her sneakers come spring. She weighs 30.5 pounds and is 40.5 inches tall. She's very thin; her pants are either 3T or 4T, but they are often too big on her waist. Big pants don't pose a problem, though, because she needs to be able to take them off to use the bathroom. She potty trained very easily back in August. Her independent personality and three days of hardcore training made for a quick and easy adjustment to no more diapers. She sometimes wakes up at night to use the bathroom, but usually goes right back to sleep. She's very capable of doing the whole process herself, but recently started wanting one of us to "help" her with the wiping and pants and the like. 

We love to chat with Charlotte, and to listen to the things she says. Her brain is always working, making connections and wanting more information. She's begun asking "why?" many, many times each day. Though it can be exhausting, her curiousity is wonderful. She often repeats things (or variations of things) she hears us say. For example, today she told us Bear couldn't go to church because she had sick germs. And later, I offered a used cup of Asher's, to let Bear have a drink. She refused, saying, "No, Mom. That's old. Bear needs a new drink." 

Last night in bed, she asked me: "What do policemen have?"
When I didn't respond immediately, she said, "Do they drive cars? Or ambulances?" 

The cutest.

One not-so-cute thing, is the sleep difficulties Charlotte's been having this month. She's in the middle of a transition to drop her nap, but some days she's too exhausted to go without it. The days she doesn't nap, she goes to bed pretty easily around 7 and falls asleep by 8. If she naps, her bedtime is much. Lster (closer to 8:30) and she stays in bed awake, often for 45+ minutes. Unfortunately, most nights Charlotte wakes up at least once, and many nights this month she has woken up 2-4 times. It's as if she forgot all her self-soothing techniques she used as a baby, and can't get herself back to sleep without Joel or I coming to lay in her bed for a while. Needless to say, we're exhausted! 

Charlotte has so much energy and loves to play. She creates towns and buildings and homes, then lets her cars and animals live their life. She talks to her stuffed friends, and has started to say hello to strangers. She sometimes tells people that she's three now, and will go to school next year. She's growing in her ability to play nicely with Asher, and there have been some really sweet interactions lately. Sharing is still very difficult, as is accepting someone else's idea of how something should be played. She's very independent and very opinionated, but also very nurturing and encouraging. 

We've been getting new books from the library lately, to add to our personal rotation of favorites. Charlotte often gravitates toward 1-2 books we've chosen and wants to read them before every nap and at every bedtime. She really seems to grasp complex concepts in the books, but sometimes makes us giggle with the conclusions she draws from looking at the pictures and putting together things in her mind. 

Charlotte loves to play with stuffed animals and is very careful when she plays with small things such as rice and beads and Pom poms. She's creative and cautious and so much fun. 

Charlotte girl, you are a delight. I'm so proud to be your momma! 

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Asher: sixteen months

Growth/ development: Asher's fifteen month checkup was in the middle of last month. That day, he weighed 26 pounds, 6 ounces. He was 30 1/4 inches tall. He's at the very top of the growth chart for height, and average for weight. Since he started walking this month, he's slimmed down some :) If he's wearing a cloth diaper, 18 month onesies are too tight. He can still wear pants in the 18 month size, as well as 24 month. He wears size 5 shoes and has 8 teeth. Still seems to be working on molars, as he is drooling like crazy and constantly putting his fingers in his mouth. He seems extra fussy this month, as well.

Asher is finally walking! I'd say he walks 85% of the time, and crawls the last 15%... mostly on unstable ground like playground mulch and garden soil. Or when he's very upset or exhausted. He is pretty steady on his feet these days, and can carry things while walking and turn around to walk another way. He gets this proud look on his face. It's the cutest!

Communication: Asher has a lot to say. He babbles a lot, and when he talks to his grandparents on FaceTime, he goes on and on as if he's been wanting to chat with them! He will point and gesture with his hands, and raise his voice to make a point, though we rarely know what that point might be!

He still has the same signs, but the number of words he says seems to be multiplying rapidly. I can't even keep track of how many words he knows. The ones he says most frequently are: Noooooo, Daddy, ba-ba (ball, bottle), car-car, baby, Hiiiii, Bye-bye, choo choo, and Mama.

Sleep/ schedule: While he's doing a solid job on his one nap (2-3 hours daily), Asher's night sleep wasn't great this month. He rarely sleeps all the way through the night, often waking in the 2-5 am range, fully awake and fussing. If we give him a warm bottle and put him back to bed, he will usually sleep until 7 or 7:15am. It's a bad habit, but I'm using the excuse that our whole morning is better if he sleeps until 7, as opposed to waking for the day at 6am. His nap is almost always at noon, but we adjust it slightly based on his morning wake time.

Food: Asher's kind of unreliable about his eating, still. He LOVES to drink whole milk from a bottle, which kind of drives me crazy, though I'm not willing to go cold turkey on the bottles because I know the comfort helps him settle for sleep and I'm too exhausted to mess with his sleep.

Some of his favorite foods are black beans, cheese, steamed baby carrots, bread (and pizza!!!), yogurt, smoothies, meat sauce, and all kinds of fruit.

Activity: As always, this little man stays busy! He adores being outside, and just started liking to swing again. He will whine at the door, saying "Wheeee" and pointing at the swing until we take him out to play. He likes to be pushed fast. He also loves to explore the yard and open the doors and windows on our play house. If Charlotte is nearby playing, Asher will be happy to hang out and do his own thing. He also loves to wrestle and snuggle and read books. He's such a sweet, communicative guy. We adore him!