Selected Instructions for Helping Non-Babies Fall Asleep (Based on Advice for Babies)

It turns out the techniques parents use to get baby to sleep can be more widely applied to … just about anyone!

It turns out the techniques parents use to get baby to sleep can be more widely applied to … just about anyone! Read on to see where you can apply those sleep induction skills elsewhere in your life:

Grandparents

“When your grandma is very upset and clearly needs to go down for a nap, pick her up and shush very loudly in her ears. Spittle may fly and shortness of breath will likely set in soon, but do not be deterred. If she begins to scream, match the volume and intensity of your shush to the shrieking sound. This is to help recreate the loud, cacophonous nature of the womb.”

Siblings

“Your brother is nodding off on the couch but keeps jolting awake – he needs a little nudge. Pick him up, lay him on his side, and swing him back and forth. Do not be afraid to really get some altitude out of your lifts. This, too, matches the conditions of being in utero, because pregnant women sit in extremely violent hammocks much of the day.”

Dog

“If you notice signs that your dog is getting drowsy, drop everything you’re doing and find a piece of large, square cloth. Lay the blanket down at an angle so that it looks like a diamond, and fold the top triangle down almost all the way – leave about an inch. Lay your dog down on its back (a natural resting position for dogs) with its head protruding past the fabric: fold the right corner down to the left and tuck behind the writhing canine’s tail, followed by the top left corner folded down to the right past the jackhammer-like kicking of the leg, and bring up the bottom and tuck it into the collar. Really swaddle that canine tightly; it may even seem too tight, but Fido’s serene visage will indicate otherwise. Your dog will instantly fall into a deep, restful sleep.”

Cat

“Kitty is having a tough time settling in for its 30th nap of the day. It’s time to strap that cat into the car seat and go for a scenic drive! Try to avoid surface streets, because every time you come to a stop, kitty will wake up and screech at you, swiping erratically. It is strongly advised that you drive on the highway, finding a time where there will not be any traffic. If your cat escapes the buckle, return home and swaddle it while wearing protective goggles.”

Roommate

“Your roommate is struggling, tossing and turning in bed with a bad liquor headache, and the shut-eye she needs just isn’t forthcoming. Bring her to the gym on campus, find a yoga ball, and cradle your roomie while bouncing vigorously up and down on the giant inflated ball. You can also swivel, slow down and speed up, and sing her a Chainsmokers song. If your back begins to throb, take a break by standing up, but continue to mimic the feel of the yoga ball by jumping in such a way that you don’t actually ever leave the ground but rather alternate between tip-toes and flat feet.”

Parents

“Your father is not relaxing in his recliner and is straining to find those sweet Zs. Give him a small plastic nipple with a stuffed animal attached, and Pops will hold the little fuzzy bear and suck his way to the Kingdom of Dreams. Pick it up and reinsert as many times as needed; it’s also advisable to sprinkle your dad with a dozen more such nipples so he can reach blindly and find one himself when he drops it.”

Rabbit

“Your rabbit is probably gassy! That’s all. Lie it down on its back like you were going to swaddle it, and work its legs so that it looks like it’s riding a bicycle. Bunnies love to kick anyway so this will go over well. This intense leg movement works the gas out, but pretend not to hear the farts to spare the little fluffer some embarrassment. You can also give the bunny some gas drops with a syringe, as long as you understand that you’re doing this strictly because you’re so sleep-deprived. Gas drops are a scam.”

Stranger

“You come across a stranger trying to nap on the grass at a park, but they’re having trouble. You’re prepared: the Ergo is already tied around your waist. Hoist the stranger up over your shoulders, guide its legs through the leg holes, then click him or her in. Tighten the straps for a snug fit and use the hood if it’s sunny and you’re worried about a sunburn. It’s a good idea to find a walking path where you can mosey without stopping, because it’s the close human contact combined with motion that will ensure a restful slumber for this rando.”

Life’s Curveballs

When people ask me what motivates me in life, the answer is always him. He’s my driving force, the reason I forge on.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
35 years ago, my older brother Kip was born with a very rare genetic disorder called Cornelia de Lange Syndrome. Along with his diagnosis came a plethora of complications. In short, his body will not allow him to do what he wants it to do. He is completely aware of his condition, and could likely tell you (in great detail) all of the challenges that he has experienced as a result of an unfortunate chromosomal mishap during conception.
Kip survives in a world of print he cannot and will never understand. He faces discrimination and judgments daily. People stare, they whisper. His daily tasks of living take more effort and courage than most of us can even imagine. Ultimately, he lives captive in a body that doesn’t work like it should.
Most would agree that Kip has been dealt some very difficult cards. Most of us would also look at the many obstacles and hurdles that he faces, and give up. But not Kip. He’s an example. A daily illustration of perseverance. Of strength. Of pure grit and determination. He wakes up each day with hope in his heart, willing to face whatever obstacles life happens to throw his way.
Despite the many difficulties he encounters, he never backs down. He doesn’t succumb to bitterness, nor does he feel sorry for himself. As a matter of fact, in 35 years I’ve never once heard him complain about the challenges he faces or the hand he’s been dealt. Not once.
Kip is the kind of person who takes money out of his savings account and buys a ticket to ac-company you on a flight with your three children so you don’t have to fly alone. He’s the type of person who responds with “it’s okay, we all have bad days,” when he sees me lose my patience and yell at my kids. When my husband left for a week on a work trip, Kip came and stayed with us, so he could walk my (very nervous) oldest son to and from kindergarten on his first week of school. He’s the kind of person who would do anything for you, if he thought he might be able to lessen your load. He’s kind, calm, and genuinely helpful. It’s so humbling to see someone who has everything in the world to be upset about, choose love and kindness above all else.
Now I don’t know about you … but I wouldn’t be able to have this much courage. I would be bitter, angry, and sad. All emotions that I’m sure that kip has experienced plenty of … but when push comes to shove, instead of resentment, he chooses strength and compassion. Every. Single. Day.
Talking about my brother and his challenges has not always come easy to me. I am ashamed to admit that when I was a young girl, I used to be embarrassed that Kip was different. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t have a “normal” brother like my friends. I would get frustrated and angry. I was young, self-centered, and could only see how his syndrome impacted me. As I write, these words are still as venomous and hurtful today, as they were 20 years ago. It breaks my heart and shames me, but I also know that these emotions were all part of the experience. The process. The teaching.
The thing is, Kip has been teaching me from the very beginning. When I waited for hours every morning while he finished his “routine,” he was teaching me patience; When I yelled at him for not being able to remember the phone message, and he told me “I’m sorry, my brain doesn’t work right,” he was teaching me humility; When I watched him approach my cheating high school boyfriend in the middle of the senior hallway and tell him he was a jerk “for making my sister cry,” he was teaching me unconditional love. Most importantly, his unwillingness to give up, despite assholes like myself, was teaching me about the true meaning of bravery.
Somehow I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to learn from Kip. Of all the families in this great big world, somehow our family was chosen. And the lessons are humbling. Lessons of strength, and tenacity, and persistence. He’s taught me perspective and to appreciate my abilities and the many things that I have been blessed with. He’s taught me empathy and the importance of valuing every single person’s worth. Above all else, he’s shown me that even in your darkest hour, when you think you can’t take another step forward, you can. I know it’s possible because he does it every single day.
My mom once told me that “it’s easy to be on top and keep your cool, but the true test of character doesn’t happen there. It’s when things don’t go your way, when life throws you a curve ball, that you are given the fleeting opportunity to show this world what you are really made of. Strength and tenacity only increase when tested.”
And she’s right. As for Kip, his daily life is a constant curve ball; and if you ask me, I’d say he’s batting 1000.
When people ask me what motivates me in life, the answer is always him. He’s my driving force, the reason I forge on. Because if he can do it every single day, I have no excuse not to. I’m so damn proud to call him my brother. I’m in awe of his strength and humbled by the way he handles his struggles with such courage and grace. It’s amazing. Inspiring really. To watch someone thrive, despite the daunting challenges he faces, and not ever give up. He’s making this world a better place, by serving as a constant reminder of what true determination really looks like.

5 Expert Tips for Emotionally Healthy Sibling Relationships

A sibling means having a companion, confidant, and advocate. It also means having someone who is always around when you’d rather have them somewhere else.

“I’m going to take a quick shower,” I explained to my four-year-old.

I rarely shower during the day when both our boys are awake to spare myself the anxiety of wondering what sort of mischief is going on in my absence. But there was no way around it this time. I was covered in the germy ick of the stomach bug that was making its way through the family. I couldn’t put it off any longer.

“But I don’t think I know how to keep little brother safe on my own,” he replied.

I was thankful for his honesty and his exceptional verbal skills. He could have whined, argued, and negotiated. Instead he told me how he felt. If only all our interactions could be so simple.

“I can see how that would make you feel nervous,” I reassured him. “Stay right here in this part of the house with the gate closed, I’m sure he’ll be okay. I’ll turn on a show for you to watch and I’ll only be a few minutes.”

He nodded in agreement and I seized the precious few moments to prioritize my own needs.

The cleansing waters also brought a moment of clarity, a refreshing perspective about siblings and parenting.

I thought back to the times when I’ve needed to resolve conflict between big and little brothers. As I navigated my way through our first year with two boys, I thought giving them time to spend together without direct supervision for just a few minutes at a time would strengthen their bond.

However, every time I was out of sight, I found myself scrambling back a moment later to attend to little brother’s crying and an expression of guilt from big brother. I became frustrated and irritated, expressing my disappointment in big brother’s actions and reminding him (again!) to be gentle.

From my perspective, the misbehavior seemed like a cry for attention, acting out in aggression and jealousy. I knew my four-year-old wanted to be gentle and enjoyed having a little brother. I couldn’t understand why this kept happening.

Then I discovered the work of Janet Lansbury, author of “Elevating Childcare and No Bad Kids,” and host of podcast, Unruffled. Her practical parenting advice, based on the theories of Magda Gerber, involves respectfully acknowledging the feelings behind a child’s behavior, and understanding acting out as a cry for help.

I thought I was doing this in addressing my older son’s need for my love and attention and his feelings of jealousy toward his little brother. What I didn’t realize, until our conversation before my mid-afternoon shower, was that I’d been misinterpreting nervousness and anxiety as jealousy.

Because he told me, “I don’t think I can keep brother safe by myself,” I realized his actions to call me back into the room when left alone with his brother were an attempt to ask for assistance, not to demand my attention.

He knows babies are not self-sufficient, can get into dangerous household items, and can get hurt. It dawned on me that he wants very badly to keep his brother safe from harm but he is just little himself and can’t bear the weight of that responsibility.

I’ll add a disclaimer that I would never leave them unattended for more than a minute or two while I switched a load of laundry or refilled my coffee. My adult mind thought this was a reasonable amount of time. In his mind, I realized, it felt far too long. The only solution he could see was to do something to get his brother to cry, which would then bring me running back to join them.

It was brilliant logic really, once I considered the situation mindfully from his point of view.

He felt the same way being left alone with his little brother as I usually did when I attempted to shower at home alone with them during the day. He was anxious.

When I addressed his anxiousness with empathy and reassured him I felt little brother would be safe, he was able to rest in knowing they would be okay and I would only be out of sight for a short time.

Of course, any sibling relationship will experience resentment, disappointment, and envy, and I’m sure some of those emotions also contributed to my son’s aggression. However, taking tips from parenting experts like Janet Lansbury and books like “Siblings Without Rivalry,” we can address emotions empathetically and help our children build their own relationships, rather than meddling to mold them how we feel they should be.

Respect boundaries

Having a sibling can mean having a companion, confidant, and advocate. It can also mean having someone who is always around when you’d rather have them somewhere else. When we respect our children’s feelings, keeping them separated from their siblings when their actions tell us they can’t handle the relationship at the time, we model how to set respectful boundaries for themselves as they grow up.

Don’t force sharing

Experts point out that when young siblings are adjusting to their new relationship, the baby doesn’t actually care that much when the older one takes away her toys. If the older sibling is given the opportunity to “claim his territory,” so to speak, initially, he will feel less threatened as the relationship develops.

Focus on feelings

Writer, speaker, and childhood development professional, Amanda, at Not Just Cute recommends using the acronym CARE: Cause, Action, Reaction, Expectation, to guide parents through helping children manage challenging behavior. By understanding the root cause of sibling squabbles, we can avoid placing blame and inflicting guilt and judgement on one child or the other.

Comparison: the thief of joy

Adults and children alike feel worse about themselves when compared to others. Especially put in a situation where a child feels they are vying for parental attention or affection, comparing siblings can be especially damaging. The author of “Siblings Without Rivalry” encourages parents to observe and describe a situation from a position of neutrality, being careful not to compare the behavior of one sibling to another.

Fair does not mean equal

That “fair” actually means that everyone gets what they need, not that they get the same thing or what they want, can be a difficult concept for children. But the earlier it’s introduced, the easier it will become engrained in their expectations of family relationships. Babies need different forms of love and attention than toddlers and preschoolers. Reminding older siblings that you’re there to help meet everyone’s needs and pointing out their differences with those needs can keep jealous feelings at bay.

Sibling relationships can be difficult at any stage. Every phase of childhood and development can pose new challenges, but when we let go of our desire to control our children’s actions and interactions, we give them the freedom to learn constructive problem-solving and conflict resolution. If you’re still in the trenches of siblings adjusting to their new relationship, take heart, I’m right there with you. Emotions still run high, and since our little brother isn’t even verbal yet, our boys lack the communication component for building a relationship.

Then I hear the baby giggle at his brother’s silly faces and am assured that we’re on the right track. Using these expert tips and handling situations with empathy has cut way back on aggressive behavior and jealousy. So, with a little time and a lot of effort, I’d say this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

10 Rules for Sharing Every Sibling Should Know

What if you erased everything you’ve taught your kids about sharing and started fresh? What rules or guidelines would you put in place?

“I feel like I need two of everything,” you lament to a friend as your kids argue in the living room.
“It wouldn’t matter. Even if I had two of everything, they would still find something to fight over,” your friend replies.
Sighing, you sip your coffee, close your eyes, and try to ignore the noise.
What if you erased everything you’ve taught your kids about sharing and started fresh? What rules or guidelines would you put in place?

10 sharing rules every sibling should know

Rather than thinking of this list as a cumbersome list of expectations, see it as a starting point. An opportunity to look at the concept of sharing from a different perspective.

1 | Sharing is a choice

Start by setting the expectation that no one is forced to share. Forcing kids to share often leads to resentment and bitterness. Instead, encourage kindness and empathy by modeling the behavior you want to see. Use respect and patience as you guide your kids through the ups and downs of sharing.

2 | Give them the words

Kids need to learn how to ask to use something, how to respectfully join a game, how to politely refuse to share, how to ask for more time with a toy, etc. Slow down the conversation and give your kids time to learn and practice these phrases before expecting them to do them well.

3 | Define the word “mine”

When kids claim something is “mine!” they may actually be trying to say “I’m using this right now” or “I’d like to use it soon” or “I’m worried you’re going to break it.” Rather than getting into a power struggle over the true owner, help your child use different language to express their feelings and find a solution.

4 | Taking turns takes practice

Kids need to know that there are a lot of options when it comes to taking turns. As they build their toolbox full of ideas, they can brainstorm together to find the best method. Using a timer, setting a schedule, counting jumps on a trampoline, or giving the blue crayon when they’re done coloring the sky are all solutions to explore.

5 | Special toys need a special place

Allow each child to have a few toys, games, or objects that they do not have to share or that they can choose to share with certain people, at their discretion. Make sure each child has a safe place to store these objects so other children do not disturb them or play with them without permission.

6 | Trading can keep the peace

From the outside, trading may look like a shady business deal, but it is also a savvy social skill that kids can use to navigate play dates and friendships. Offering a different toy, packaging a few toys (and three stickers), or allowing their sibling to play with a normally off-limits toy may be a great way to play peacefully together.

7 | Long turns are acceptable

Rather than setting a random “time’s up” rule, create a common household language to give kids the option of using a toy for an extended amount of time. If someone asks for the toy, the child can say “I’m having a long turn.” Then, they can explain when the long turn will be up – the next morning, after lunch, etc.

8 | New toys get priority

Birthday gifts or other presents get special priority over the everyday toys and games. While some kids may willingly share their new toys, other kids may be more protective. Rather than forcing them to share right away, give them the opportunity enjoy the excitement of having something new.

9 | Big feelings are okay

There will be times when a sibling says “no” to a request to join a game, or when someone else is having a long turn with a toy. Let your child know that it’s okay to be upset. Empathize with these feelings. Explore ways to manage disappointment or sadness. Talk about what they can do while they wait for a turn.

10 | You can ask for help

Sometimes, the situation is too intense or complicated for kids to come to a peaceful conclusion. Let your kids know that they can come to you when they are stuck. Your role is to listen and facilitate conversation between the siblings, rather than pick a side or create a solution.

Putting the sharing rules into practice

This list may look overwhelming at first. Don’t panic. You don’t have to do a complete overhaul of your family’s sharing rules overnight. Look through the list and pick one or two that you would like to focus on first. Or, sit down with your kids and get their feedback.
The goal is not to have a rigid set of “rules” but a way to change the atmosphere around sharing in your home.
To introduce respectful communication, problem-solving, and empathy into the mix.
And … to avoid buying two (or three, or four!) of everything.

It’s not too late

Maybe you’re thinking “Well, it’s hopeless. My kids are too old to learn these skills.”
Or “I wish they were fighting over toys. We’ve moved on to bigger – and more difficult things to share – like iPads and game systems.”
You’re right, the older your kids get, the more complex sibling rivalry can become. But older kids are able to engage in discussions, think critically through challenging situations and be a part of the solution.
So, take the rules above and adapt them to fit your children’s age or developmental stage. Open up the conversation and see what insight they can bring to the table.
You may be pleasantly surprised with the results.
This article was originally published on Imperfect Families.

Cinderella Was Wrong About Stepmoms

She was nervous, sensitive, and a perfectionist, and she was a sudden mother to three. Nothing prepares you for that.

Stepmothers don’t exactly have the best reputations. From Lady Tremaine in Cinderella to Mary Gothel in Tangled, having a stepmom in movies means being locked in the attic or hours of scrubbing the floor.
So when my dad’s girlfriend moved in, I wasn’t sure what to expect. She was a journalist and photographer named Annie with long wavy black hair and round glasses. She moved in with us a few weeks after our mother left and brought with her boxes of newspapers, a Nikon Camera, and a fondness for carrot and raisin sandwiches.
I imagine she wasn’t sure what to expect either. Perhaps she had visions of baking cookies and evenings snuggled on the couch. Instead, she became the evil stepmother to three unhappy children recovering from their parent’s divorce who missed their mother.
When Annie came into our lives, I wet the bed, could barely read, and wasn’t doing well in school. She managed to change all that. In less than a year, I had read the most books in my class, got straight As, and moved to the higher class at school. I remember writing “I love Annie” on a sticker and putting it on my bed headboard.
Yet, living with Annie wasn’t easy. Unable to have children of her own, she tried to be more than a caregiver in our lives – she wanted to be our mother. But when you already have one absent but real mother, you punish the person who’s present.
And punish we did. Nothing she did was good enough, and we complained a lot. One time she threw me a sleepover birthday party, and I told her I hated her. There was the time I got off the bus at my best friend’s house, 30 minutes away, and didn’t call. And the many times I sounded so excited to talk to my real mother on the phone, just to see the reaction on Annie’s face.
Not that Annie didn’t have her faults. She was nervous, sensitive, and a perfectionist, and she was a sudden mother to three. Nothing prepares you for that.
My sister and I like to say that Annie left over an Oreo cookie. We laugh about it as if it doesn’t have that much importance. But it does. My sister was having a class party and Annie bought her a pack of Oreo cookies to take the next day. As the evening progressed we pilfered one cookie after the other until by the morning there was none left, just an empty box. The next morning, Annie discovered the empty box and became upset. I remember lots of fighting with my dad behind closed doors. A few days later, Annie left, taking all her newspapers and knitted socks.
Instead of pizzas made of English muffins we came home to beans on the wood stove and short note from our dad telling us to not watch television.
That wasn’t the last we heard from Annie. She moved close by for a time and worked for the school, so we saw her regularly. My memories of that time are of festivals getting my face painted and making cheesecake. Although she would be the first one to remind me that we probably only did those things once.
About a year later, she moved to Montana to care for her aging father. I wonder if it ever occurred to her that she left like our mother did?
Still, she kept in touch. She never forgot a birthday or a Christmas. When I needed help with my applications for college, she gave me notes and edits. In my 20s, she pushed my dad to send me to Italy to study because he had promised years before. Later, when I found out I was pregnant with my son, she was the first to send me a gift. In fact, she flew two states to watch him for a weekend, so we could get some rest. No one else had even offered.
When I look around my home, her photographs line the walls and refrigerator. Family albums are filled with her shots of me growing up. She always managed to capture that perfect moment where a person’s true essence comes forward. I asked her once how she could snap so many great shots so quickly. She shrugged and said “I’ve been doing it for so long.”
I’m not the only one she helps. She fights for people with disabilities by going to city council meetings to demand more handicapped parking. She takes pictures at people’s weddings for free and then sends them all the pictures in a photo album. When she sees an injustice she’s determined to correct it. She does this with her words and camera.
I read once that a child only really needs one person to care about them. This person doesn’t have to be a parent. I’ve been lucky enough to have Annie. She’s the one who sends me saved newspaper clippings of the time I was in a school play or the pumpkin poem I wrote in 3rd grade.
Now that I’m a mom, I realize how hard it must have been for her to raise three kids not her own. I realize how much love and determination it took to stay for the four years that she did. I understand the sacrifice. I understand the love.
I have a lot to be thankful for when it comes to my stepmom. She gave me my love of reading and writing, and still, after all these years, she’s determined to never stop loving me. For that, I’ll forever be thankful.

Victoria’s Secret? Not Without My Daughters!

The warning signals about revenge beep the loudest in my brain when my daughters drag me to those crowded sales at Victoria’s Secret.

Motherhood is an early retirement position. Your children do grow up. – Colleen Parro
I was a woman long before I became a mother. Once I became a mother, I became superwoman. From there, everything went downhill. I lost my cape, flew in the wrong direction, had some close calls with Kryptonite, and I caught a cold.
Despite all the mistakes I made, I still take a cue from Bryan Adams: “Those were the best days of my life.” They truly were – the waking up in the middle of the night, the bottle warming, the knee scrape remedies, the schoolbag/lunch packing, the hugs, the kisses, the bedtime stories, the teen years, the fights, the hugs and kisses again, the college goodbyes, the phone calls, the quick visits….
I would not exchange them for anything in the world. And I had my hubby, faithful partner in the mission.
Then that period of stillness came, as it almost always does, and all parental activity ceased.
Recently though, shopping has officially become mother-daughter bonding time. Sometimes, I wonder if my young adult daughters are exercising a little revenge on me for making them wear matching dresses when they were little. They talk of this often enough with an exaggerated amount of horror, in my opinion.
“Remember how Mom made us wear matching dresses and hair bands? Uggghh!” They roll their eyes at each other and shudder, even as I protest that they looked really cute.
The warning signals about revenge beep the loudest in my brain when they drag me to those crowded sales at Victoria’s Secret. Anyone on the ascending side of 50 would balk at the thought of going there during sale time. Not only is it infused with young 20-something’s with near perfect bodies, but the color pink that reverberates from its walls can linger cloyingly in your brain for days afterward.
Overpowered by the femininity that oozes from the doorway, my husband disappears in an instant, mumbling something about checking out shirts at J.C. Penny’s. My daughters are already enthusiastically pulling out stuff for me to see. “Mom, look it’s only $25 for five pieces – such a great deal!”
“Uh, no girls. I don’t think my bottom would fit into that.” My protests are fully justified, as what they hold are thin wisps of some satiny material that is bordered with lace. Or is the lace bordered with satin? It’s difficult to tell.
I try to backtrack from the shop, but they drag me in further. The next thing I know, I’m in the middle of a group of women feverishly grabbing panties out of drawers and little-boxed cubicles marked by size and design. There are hordes of women literally fighting to get as many as they can.
I wonder why they need so many. Do they change them every hour now?
“Here, these will fit your bottom,” my eldest says loudly, never one to sugar-coat, attracting amused looks from fellow shoppers. She’s holding up tiny looking ‘shorts,’ which she has triumphantly pulled out of an XL drawer.
I don’t much care for them, but in the past, shopping has been nothing if not a fun experience for me, so I join in the happy scuffle and start digging in with the rest. It’s not easy as there’s a lot of huffing and puffing and elbowing going on.
I pull out a strange yet familiar contraption. “Hey look, bum floss!” I declare, borrowing the term from my husband’s droll uncle from Montreal.
“That’s a G-string, Mom.” The three of us collapse in a fit of giggles. The laughter comes easily in a shopping mall.
“Let’s get some bras for her!” says my younger one, and they drag a groaning me further inside.
I make a convincing and valid case about how Macy’s understands gravity and sells bras more my style, but my protests are drowned in their youthful exuberance as they pick out wired stuff and push me towards the trial rooms. I can see they are determined to get their mother to look young and sexy again.
Is that even a possibility?
I spend the next hour trying on bras in every shape, color, and size. I finally pick up two – one in flaming red with black satin edging and the other in a shocking shade of pink. They are both underwired and outrageously expensive, and I know they will lie in my lingerie drawer, unused and occupying too much space.
Why are bras these days made to look like mini helmets anyway? In our days, bras were bras; no big deal.
Still, at the end of the shopping spree, it seems worth it, buying all the useless, never-to-be-worn stuff, just to see the happy satisfaction on my daughter’s faces. Obviously, they feel they have slashed a big chunk off my chronological age.

Time flew by at an impossibly fast pace while I was busy juggling career and home. I want to take my children shopping, dress them up, hold their little warm bodies in my arms, and smother them with kisses and hugs.
But they are too big to pick up and hug. I can’t walk into their rooms and find them sleeping under the blankets. They are thousands of miles away for most of the year. The emptiness in my arms is tangible at times as I look at them, wishing them to be smaller again.
They shoot similar looks at me when they think I’m not looking, worried that their one-time invincible young mom is now growing older – the one who had never-ending energy, and who now huffs and puffs when she climbs stairs. Her once smooth skin has faint wrinkles. Her memory, once so sharp, now seems muddled.
Our shopping sessions, however, override all the worries. I cannot but gratefully grab these moments as they, too, speed by.

I willingly step into the shorts and wriggle them up my bottom, breathing in resolutely while I button up. I optimistically climb into slinky dresses and sometimes slide them off halfway, as they refuse to go over my chest. I slip on pretty tops and twirl around in flouncy skirts, all as two pairs of eyes inspect me from head to toe.
Our roles are reversed now. I’m the one who’s whining now.
When I get tired, trying on stuff, they say, “Just one more, Mom. Trust me, this will look really good on you.”
I give in and try it on, and when they smile, all seems okay in my universe. One more shopping experience. One more shared memory.
The sadness, the nostalgia, the long periods of separation all seem to ebb as my daughters and I, surrounded by fabrics, textures, colors, designs, blur the lines between our roles. I’m not sure who’s the mother, the daughter, the sister, or the child now. We have casually flung our identities over each other, like old comfortable cloaks, and have simply become women. Women, who love each other and hold onto each other.
This love strengthens me over the passage of time.
Who needs Superwoman anyway?

It Would Have Been Better If Kevin Hadn't Come

I think all parents worry that one of their kids is being shortchanged in some way. This fear increases exponentially when you have a special needs child.

I think all good parents worry that one of their children is being shortchanged in some way. This fear increases exponentially when you have a special needs child.
Some days it feels as though everything is about Kevin – keeping him calm, keeping him happy, or keeping him from harming himself and us. There’s not a day, not a single moment, that I don’t worry my girls are being cheated.
We just returned from Universal Studios in Orlando Florida, and what an amazing place, especially for families with disabled children. We were able to bypass all the lines and, not only did the staff allow Kevin to choose his seat on every ride, they weathered each of his outbursts as if it was nothing out of the ordinary.
I planned this trip over a year ago for Dana. It was all for her. Dana is a bonafide “Harry Potter” junky, and I couldn’t be more proud of my self-proclaimed “nerd.” She has sorted each of us into our prospective “houses.” Chris, Papa, Kevin, and I are Hufflepuffs, Godmommy and Dana are Ravenclaws, and Kayla and Grammy are Gryffindors.
I know it won’t last. Puberty is just around the corner and, before I blink, I know the robe, wand, Ravenclaw T-shirts, and Marauder’s Map will be replaced with lipstick, Teen Vogue, and God knows what else. They told me years ago to hang on to every precious moment but, like many parents, I didn’t listen until two years ago when I finally saw her childhood slipping through my fingers.
Two years ago (she was 10), I thought Dana still believed in Santa Claus. I figured it would be the last year, so I planned a vacation to Disney World on Christmas Day. When the kids woke up, the only things under the tree were suitcases and an agenda written by Santa to Dana detailing every moment of the trip. It was all for her – this last Christmas I thought she believed.
We had a great time, but when we got home, Dana sat me down and said, “Mommy, I know it was you. I wanted to believe, but deep down, I knew it was you. Thank you.”
It was one of those moments when you can actually hear your heart break. She knew I did it all for her, she knew I loved her, but my baby didn’t believe in magic anymore. I became cognizant of every moment I’d lost, because I was so busy with Kevin.
This time I wanted things to be different. “Okay,” I thought. “She doesn’t believe in Santa, but she still believes in wizards and witches, so the magic isn’t gone!” This time, I let her plan everything down to the last detail and spent way more money than I should have, but it would all be worth it because for once, everything would be about Dana and what she wanted. For once, my darling girl wouldn’t be in second or third place.
We got home yesterday and, all in all, it was a great trip. But there were moments that nearly crushed me. Everything with Kevin is hard. There were meltdowns in the park where he hit us, screamed at us, bit us, and pulled our hair. There was a tantrum in a restaurant that silenced the whole place. It seemed a thousand eyes were bearing down on us with either pity or disdain.
There was the day he didn’t make it to the toilet in time and pooped all over the bathroom floor, and Dana had to bar the entrance to the men’s room while I cleaned the mess and Chris found new clothes.
I’ve taught my daughters to be honest about what our life is like, but sometimes the truth hurts. For example, our first day in was rough. Kevin was confused, overstimulated, and extremely agitated. After dinner, he finished his desert and then demanded Kayla give him hers. When she refused, he started screaming and hitting her.
Dana’s godmother, who isn’t used to seeing him meltdown like that, politely suggested we bring him outside, and Dana responded with, “Oh you’re embarrassed? Seriously?! Welcome to my life. I deal with this every day.”
Ouch. I’d never heard her say anything like that before. But it was the cold, hard truth, and I understood exactly how she felt.
Our last day we spent swimming in the pool. Chris and I were holding Dana when Kayla swam over to us. (Kevin was with Grammy.) We each put a girl on our back, and Kayla said, half-jokingly, “It’s like we’re a perfect family!”
Translation: We’d be a perfect family if only we didn’t have Kevin.
Then there was the day I caught Dana’s Godmother and my mother talking about me. “I heard you two!” I said jokingly. “What are you saying behind my back?”
But my mother put her head down as if making a confession and said, “I was just saying how, sometimes, when Kevin explodes like this, I just have to walk away it’s so hurtful to watch. I hurt for you and for him, and I just have to get away.”
Ouch, ouch, double ouch.
As wonderful as the late night talks with Dana’s Godmother were, one night she confessed to me, “You have a very hard life. I wouldn’t want it for myself.”
I must have asked Dana a million times in four days, “Is it everything you dreamed it would be?” Every time she replied with something along the lines of, “It is, Mommy, it really is, and if Kevin wasn’t here it would be perfect.”
I can remember thinking, “You know, Dana, all the honesty I’ve heard this week didn’t hurt quite enough. How about we get some lemon juice or salt or something?”
Which begs the question: “Rachel, have you done the right thing encouraging the girls (and everyone else you love) to be honest about their feelings? Shouldn’t you be responding to all these comments with something along the lines of, “Don’t say that about Kevin!”
Maybe.
I’m sure there are those who would say I’ve made a mistake allowing my girls to speak so freely about their feelings and thoughts, but you know what? They don’t have to live the way we do. We’ve had to survive things most people can’t imagine. So yes, we live by our own set of rules over here, and part of that is admitting you’d rather not get slapped in the face in line for “The Hulk” because Kevin wants to go first or telling strangers they can’t go into the bathroom right now because Mommy is busy cleaning poop off the floor.
My girls speak some harsh truths, truths heavy with anger and resentment, but we’ve all learned something the hard way: When you speak those truths, it sets you free to love when loving seems impossible.
I can’t count how many times (after she said she hated him) the following conversation took place.
Kevin: “I hit you!”
Dana: With all the empathy and patience in the world, “Please don’t hurt me?”
Kevin: “I want to!”
Dana: “Okay, Kevin, if it will make you feel better, you can hit me.”
Kevin: “Sawney.”
Dana: “It’s okay, thank you for making the right choice. Let’s go on another ride, you can go first!”
And Kayla, who said we’d be the perfect family if only it weren’t for Kevin and took more physical abuse than any of us, returned every blow with a firm hug while softly whispering, “It’s okay, buddy, I’m here, I’m right here,” as she held him.
What is it she always says? Oh yes: “Bad thoughts and feelings are like weeds, Mommy. You can’t pretend they’re not there. Pull them out by the root and let them die, or they’ll kill everything you’ve worked so hard to make beautiful.”
So we’re home now. Kevin has been so peaceful and pleasant all day, obviously relieved to be where things are familiar. I ask Dana to sit in my lap, and she agrees, which is rare. She’s almost 13 now, and sitting in Mom’s lap is sooooooooooooooooo not cool.
Me: “Why did we go to Universal?”
Dana: “Because you love me, and I love Harry Potter.”
Me: “What was your favorite part?”
Dana: “Getting my Godmother all to myself in Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley.”
Me: “Was it just like you dreamed?”
Dana: “Better.”
Me: “Do you still wish Kevin hadn’t come?”
Dana: “No, I was just mad. Sometimes you have to let yourself be mad or you’ll never be happy, right?”
Me: “Right. I’m sorry he takes up so much of my attention.”
Dana: “It’s okay. He takes up a lot of everyone’s attention, even mine.”
Me: “I love you.”
Dana: “I love you more.”
Me: “Not possible.”
We’re home. Dana is in her Ravenclaw robe, wand in hand, re-reading “The Order of The Phoenix” while munching on a chocolate frog. Her friend just texted to ask how the vacation went, and she replies, “The best time I’ve ever had in my whole life.”

Adding Another Sibling Won't Ruin Your Kids

Experts believe there are things you can do to make the transition to life with a new baby easier on older children.

My big round stomach feels exactly like a ticking time bomb.
Sometime in the next three months, life as I know it will end forever. A new baby is on the way, and from experience, I know everything is about to change. Again.
This past summer lined up with my second trimester almost perfectly, so we decided to jam-pack our days with every item that’s been sitting on our “You know, we should really do X one day” list for the last couple of years.
With two boys less than 18 months apart, we have existed in survival mode ever since becoming parents. Now that the fog of babyhood was beginning to clear, we finally felt ready to be out and about again before the next forecasted storm hits later this fall.
So we went for it. We slathered ourselves in sunscreen, packed up our suitcases until over-flowing, and hit the road.
We traveled to Glacier National Park and crossed paths with mountain goats. We took the kids to splash in the water at the beach. The boys were mesmerized by their first glimpses of elephants and otters at the zoo. We flew across the country to visit my family for the first time in two years. We survived our first camping trip and watched as the moon eclipsed the sun. We picked blueberries, and the kids saw their first baseball game. My sons met their newest cousin, and for the first time, I introduced my youngest to his great-grandmother.
By the end of the summer, we were exhausted, dirty, and in possession of a slew of new family memories.
Pregnancy signals the start of a new life, not just for a child, but for the entire family. Accordingly, the old life passes away. This is not regrettable, but nevertheless, there is a definite sadness that comes when a phase in your family’s life will end.
For a new baby’s siblings, the addition can bring just as many changes as it does for parents. Most new babies come along when firstborn children are between the ages of two and three – a period already rife with significant changes and developments, often hallmarked by disruptive and noncompliant behavior.
Despite the fact that life will never return to the way it was, the research says I have little reason to worry about the effects adding a new sibling will have on my older children. A meta-analysis of studies examining the transition to siblinghood found that the period of adjustment for siblings was not as disruptive as we might initially think.
Across studies, older siblings tended to show less affection for mothers during the transition and underwent some sleep difficulty. But lasting behavior problems, including regression, seemed limited to subgroups of children, with little evidence that the transition ends up being a true crisis for most families.
The reassurance that I won’t permanently damage my older children by thrusting number three on them helps to minimize my fears about the transition. In truth, another sibling might even be good for them. Having a sibling reduces the risk of developing asthma and becoming obese. It even lowers the likelihood that your children will get divorced someday.
Experts believe there are things you can do to make the transition to life with a new baby easier on older children. Unsurprisingly, it doesn’t involve jam-packing your summer with memorable adventures. The first step is to consider timing. Between 18 months and three years of age – exactly the time frame in which most parents aim to add a new member to their family – is when older siblings have the hardest time adjusting to a new baby.
Once the new baby is on the way, regardless of the prospective age gap, parents can help their older children adjust by reading books about new babies and introducing older kids to newborns and babies, according to experts at Cornell University. Parents should also emphasize positive ways that siblings can interact, rather than just focusing on things they cannot do with the baby.
All the prep work that comes with a new child can never fully ease my anxieties, however. When I was pregnant with my first, the thought of a fundamental shift in identity, not to mention my day to day life, felt foreboding.
During my second pregnancy, I mourned the loss of our family of three and worried how I would handle being outnumbered on a day-to-day basis. In the end, my fears were proven correct.
But oh so worth it.
After the fog of the newborn days begins to settle, I know there will be a period of adjustment for all of us. During that period, there won’t be many cross-country adventures or spontaneous day-trips to the dinosaur museum. So for now, we’ll keep tackling our pre-baby bucket list and stay busy doing the things we won’t get to do again any time soon.
This time around, I have the foresight to know I won’t regret the change.

Lessons on Living Right I Hope to Teach My Daughters

I’ve learned some lessons and had experiences growing up that I want to share with you when you are able to understand.

To my girls,
You’re growing up so quickly it’s scary.
As your mum, I feel like it’s my responsibility do the best job I can to provide you with the tools to prepare you for the most fulfilled life you can possibly have.
When I was a child, I enjoyed living in the moment and didn’t think about the future. In my teens, I started to think about what job I’d do and what my husband might be like. But it’s only in the last few years that I’ve thought about how much the decisions I make affect my life – things I wish I’d thought about more when I was younger, in hindsight.
I’ve learned some lessons and had experiences growing up that I want to share with you when you are able to understand. I hope they help you in some way to develop into the wonderful women I know you’ll become.
So here goes:

Dream big

Discover your passions and pursue them. My hope for you is that you end up with a job you enjoy, one that fulfills you. Think carefully in school about what you would like to do. You may want to be anything from a lawyer to an air hostess or a counselor. Weigh all your options and ask questions.

Be kind

Think of others. Wonder why someone acts a certain way and try not to judge him or her for it. If you can, try to be there for that person. Everyone – and I mean everyone – faces a private battle you will know nothing about.

Count to 10

I’ll never forget hearing your gran say this to herself when things got tough. It allows you to take a moment before you react to something, and in many cases, it can stop you from saying something you might regret.

Be proud of your body

It is unique. No one body is the same as another, so please don’t compare yourself with others. Look after your body. Don’t look at it in the mirror and pick fault. It’s so much more important to be strong and healthy. Eating well and exercising are the most important things you can do to achieve this. You may have flaws and imperfections, but they make you you. Your body shape does not define you.

Don’t follow the crowd

As a schoolgirl, I found there were so many little cliques. Popular, geeky, clever, or sporty. You may feel you need to try and fit into one of these to be accepted. Choose friends who accept you for being you. Develop your own sense of style.
Peer pressure is a tough one to deal with. I remember quite a few friends trying smoking and drugs. I flat refused, knowing these things were wrong for me. Even though it made me feel like I didn’t fit in as well, those friends later said they admired me for standing my ground. And I was healthier for it. Do what you know is right for you and not because everyone else is doing it.

Be a good friend

Friends will come and go throughout your life. Don’t lose touch with the ones that matter. Just because they may be experiencing different things from you, it doesn’t mean you can’t be there for each other. Take time to really listen to them. They may need a good friend to support their decisions.

Look out for your sibling

You may not remember, but, Millie, you were an amazing sister when Eve was born. You’ll find your sister annoying at times, but when you’re older, I hope you’ll be best friends, like me and your aunties. There’s nothing that can compare with the experiences you share with each other. Family is important. Be there for them. Don’t let arguments or misunderstandings cause divisions. Life’s too short not to spend with those you love.

Don’t bottle things up

Cry if you need to. You will experience highs and lows. You need to share these with someone, good and bad. Talking is the best thing you can do. It can help you work things through and decide your next action. Don’t ever be ashamed of what you have to say, even if you feel vulnerable. You should always feel you can talk about anything with people you trust.

Don’t judge or hate others

The world can be a cruel place. It starts in school. Kids can be mean. You may experience it yourself or see it happening to your friends. People do things for a reason. They will pick on others or start wars because they are scared and insecure or jealous. Feel sad for them. If you find yourself caught up in the middle of anything, tell someone. Don’t let others make you feel inadequate, and don’t retaliate.

Love yourself and find those who love who you are

You need to be happy with who you are. Be proud and surround yourself with people who accept you. You will meet the right partner in time. You are unique and wonderful. Don’t ever pretend to be someone you’re not.

Go with your gut feeling

Sometimes in life you need to make tough decisions. Weigh your options, but in the end, go with what you feel is the right thing to do.

Don’t over-pluck your eyebrows or bleach your hair

Both fairly permanent disasters. I should know! In particular, steer clear of Sun In. I had to have my hair dyed for years until it finally grew out. It’s good to try different things to see what suits you, but I promise, these won’t.

Look around and above

Look at the stars. Always wonder. The world is so much bigger than us. Take time to appreciate it. If you ever feel down or need space to think, take time for yourself and enjoy your own company. Go for a walk in a park or the countryside. Surround yourself with nature. It gives you the time and space you need to reflect.

Open your heart

Don’t be afraid to put your feelings out there, whether for a friend or partner. You may get hurt, but it’s all a journey in helping you find the right people in your life.

Get off your phone and talk

There is nothing better than a good chat. Seriously, texting and emailing can be quick and easy, but so much less personal. Don’t lose that face-to-face contact. It allows you to truly see how someone is feeling.

Maintain a good work/life balance

Join a club, take up a sport, learn a different language, have fun with friends. Whatever you choose, do something that makes you feel happy.

Enjoy time at home with your family

You’ll soon leave on your adventures, and I hope you have plenty. (Unless you choose to stick with us, in which case, be prepared to pitch in!) I know we’re not as cool as your friends, but don’t forget, we know you well and will always be here for you, no matter what. Home is the place you should feel safest.

Never stop learning

At school, you’re made to learn. Once you leave, you can choose to keep your mind open or let it close. You could learn anything – a new language or painting or drawing or learning about the past. Keep your brain active.

Pick your battles

There will be times when you should stand up and say something. There will also be times when you shouldn’t. Have faith that you’ll know the difference.

Save money

It’s easy when you’re young not to think about your future and spend your money on the moment. There are so many things you will have to pay for…a car, a house, holidays. Don’t get caught out. (And don’t want be like your mum and spend loads on clothes just because they’re discounted!) It only makes you feel good temporarily.

If you experience unrequited love, you’ll be okay

If you’re like me, you’ll probably have a crush or two in school (and after). Unfortunately, your crushes may not feel the same way. It will feel like the end of the world (I feel your pain!), but don’t feel too sad about this. You will meet the boy, and then the man, who deserves you. It’s all part of growing up and discovering who and what you like, which is never a waste of time.

Have no regrets

Better to do something you reget than regret something you didn’t do. Take chances and seize moments. It doesn’t matter if things don’t work out. At least you tried. Be proud of that. Look forward, not back.

Have children when and if you feel ready

Enjoy your life before you have kids. Being a mum is a game changer. It can be pretty exhausting (way beyond the pregnancy and newborn days), and you’ll experience lots of challenges. But your kids will be the most precious people in your life. Treasure the wonderful times, and don’t feel guilty for feeling overwhelmed. It’s perfectly normal. Anyway, you can always ask grandma for help!

Always be honest

Tell the truth about what you are doing or how you feel. Lying and covering things up will catch up with you eventually.

Enjoy your life

We only get to live it once. Just remember that. Go out there and make your mark on it. I know you’ll make us proud.
My hope is that you can talk to me and your dad about anything. We’ve gone through so many happy and sad times, individually and together. We understand what it’s like to grow up. We’ll never judge and always be there for you, no matter what.
Most of all, though, I want you to be happy and feel loved. I can already see the amazing adults you’ll become and can’t wait to follow, love, and support you on your journey.
Love always,
Mum xxx
This piece originally appeared on the author’s blog.

You're Going to Be a Different Mother to Each of Them

Every firstborn I know has a story like this. Mine has me on a train at two weeks old, on my first official field trip. My parents interpreted my newborn foot twitching and eye blinking as signs they had a budding zoologist on their hands. It’s the only thing that can explain why they carefully assembled a baby bag on a sweltering August morning (I have no idea how they kept my formula from spoiling) and boarded the three of us on a train to Penn Station for the hour’s trip into Manhattan, followed by an hour-long ride on a crowded subway. Destination: Bronx Zoo.
From what I am told, it was all going swell until the elephants. My father held me up to face the animals. He sweetly told me what they were, (not the scientific classification, I hope) and added, “They are gray, Linda, gray.”
At that point, a man standing next to us with his older kids began to laugh. My father, experiencing the self-doubt that soon becomes a parent’s faithful sidekick, felt the need to justify himself: “She can see colors!” he said indignantly, and we went on our way to the lions.
Fast forward 11 years. I was now the big sister of the family. One afternoon, my younger brother burst through the front door with more than his usual excitement. His kindergarten class was going on a trip, and he bounced around the living room with all the details. My mother was standing at the kitchen sink. Surprised he was making so much noise, she walked into the room, drying her hands. She watched him jump from the couch to the chair, shouting, “We’re going to the zoo!”
After a few seconds, it sunk in.
“You’ve never been to the zoo?” she asked.
“Nope!” he said. Then he went in for the easy lay-up:  “And we’re going on a train!”
I heard my mother tell this story often. She had a knack for timing and making people laugh. But at the end of it, I always sensed there was a little sigh. Maybe a tiny regret that they had been so single-minded with their firstborn and wished she’d had a little more left for that third kid. Or at least hadn’t been so surprised to hear he’d never been to the zoo. Or on a train.
It happened to me, too.
My first son’s baby book could have won a Pulitzer. It is a perfect record – in excruciating minutiae – of his first two years. My second son’s baby book is half as long, even though he reached the same exact milestones. When my daughter came along, she had two brothers who were barely out of toddlerhood and a mother and father who, on their best days, were in survival mode. Her nearly blank baby book taunted me most – more than forgetting to pay the mortgage or letting the laundry pile up into a health hazard. I kept promising myself I’d catch up and fill it in.
When she was 12, she found it on my bookshelf and noticed how measly the contents were. She took it upon herself to fill in the missing lines with the most rudimentary facts.
“How old was I when I sat up?” she called from the next room.
“Five months,” I cheerfully guessed. I didn’t dare add, “give or take a month.” And now I tell that story with the same sigh I heard in my mother’s voice when she told hers.
Maybe, instead of feeling guilty that we didn’t keep up our laser-focus as we added babies to the family, it’s okay to say, “I loved you all differently.” After all, I wasn’t the same person on my initial ride on the parenting roller coaster as I was when my third baby landed in my arms. The first time I was white-knuckled, and every decision felt do or die. By the third, I rode with my hands high above my head but also aware of all the things I had to let go. It was different ride every time.
Though I could hope to be a good mother, I wasn’t the same mother. There was always enough joy for all of them – it was just different joy. And plenty to go around. True for that firstborn, who gazes cynically at the elephants through two-week-old eyes that can only see 12 inches in front of her face, and for that last one, who can’t believe his good luck when his chance comes to get to the zoo. On a train.