Saturday, January 12, 2013

Bye Bye Baby

I realize I am in another transition. From having a baby in the house to having only kids. It's a very strange time. I knew it would be difficult or strange but it is harder than I thought on me. I know several people expecting their first child right now and I can see the excitement and remember it so well. It's hard to believe that it was almost 6 years ago that I was going through that. Sometimes it feels like just yesterday. Other times it feels like a lifetime ago.

Memories are just flooding back as I think about the next year for first time parents. I try not to bombard them with my experience because I know that everyone experiences it differently and they want to find their own way. At least that is how I felt. I wanted to experience it all for myself and find my way through trial and error. As I look back, I can start to reflect on things I did right, things I did wrong and things that surprised me. I have said it before and I'll say it again, the first year of being a parent is like no other year in your child's life. It's the most special.

I know everyone's first year of parenthood is different. But mine was so great. I remember being in the middle of it and thinking that life will never be this easy again. I had heard horror stories of not knowing what to do with your baby when you first bring them home and those first few weeks. The first few weeks of Laci's life were great. She slept all the time the first few weeks. At night she ate and slept. I'm sure in reality it wasn't as easy as I remember it. But it was pretty easy.

I had images of the kind of mother I wanted to be. I wanted to be laid back, go with the flow. I wanted to be the "experienced" mother, not the first time mother. Of course that is not possible. I was a first time mother. Everything was new. I have heard the saying that goes something along the lines of "with the first child, you do everything perfect and wash the pacifier before giving it back to the baby. With the second child, you spit on it and wipe it off your shirt before giving it back, with the third child you just hand it back to the child after picking it up out of the mud." I didn't want to be that mother that needed everything perfect and pristine I wanted to be the mother that knew my child would be okay if things were not perfect and that I went with the flow. In some ways I was. In other ways I wasn't. I did return the pacifier back to Laci after dropping it on the flow with just wiping it on my shirt. We would say that we were "building strong kids". :) I always thought the opposite with Calvin. "If it was good enough for the first child, it is good enough for the second" and my standards didn't change.

When Laci was about 4 weeks old, my parents and brother were visiting. It was our first "bad night". I couldn't get her back to sleep. Charlie and I tried for hours. Laci cried for hours. It was as if she knew there were different people in the house and she didn't like it. Finally at 5:30 a.m., she fell asleep in the den in her bouncer. Charlie was on the floor and I was lying on the love seat in the den. I suggested going back to bed. I love his response. He said "No, this is a family moment. We will remember this night." We slept on the floor. And it is one of our favorite memories from her first year.

Weeks 6 - 8. My favorite baby book (it became my "baby bible") is Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. I am obsessed with baby's sleep after reading this book. I loved that they had a week by week, what to expect section. They said that weeks 6 - 8 are the worse. I agree with that. It also talked a lot about the "witching" hour from 5 - 7 in the evenings. I think almost every parent will tell you that that is the worst time of day. Some days it still is. Laci was horrible for those three weeks or so. I remember being at wits end during at time just counting down the minutes until Charlie would be home. It was rough. I would make dinner at 3:00 p.m. to be able to cook it at dinner time. But after week 8, she calmed down. I learned to deal with the "witching hours" better and things got into a routine. The other tip I learned in the book is that if a child is fussy and not sleeping well, they are tired. Put them to sleep earlier, not later. By the time Laci and Calvin were 3 or 4 months old, their bedtime went from 9 p.m. until 7 p.m. And they always slept 7pm - 7 am when they were babies. Calvin still goes to bed between 7:30 - 8. Last night at 7:30, he asked to go to bed. Our motto was good sleep promotes good sleep. If they weren't sleeping well, we put them down to bed earlier. I love the early bedtimes. It is hard to adjust life to being home for bedtime by 7 p.m. but it is totally worth it. And with the baby asleep by 7:00, Charlie and I still had the whole evening to ourselves. Life was good. I always made a point to remember that time because I knew it wouldn't last.

I also tried to be the "experienced" mother and live by the rule of "less is more". We had a small house at the time and I tried to use as little baby gear as possible. Anything that went into the house had to have at least 2 purposes and last more than 3 months. My sister was expecting her third child at the time and had that third child attitude. She needed and wanted nothing and it seemed strange to me. Now looking back, I understand. I thought I was getting by on the smallest amount of "stuff" but now realize that I had more than I needed. Besides a few basics, there really isn't much you need with a newborn.

One of the tips that I heard before baby that I ignored was to pre-cook meals and accept all help. I don't do well with help. I don't like frozen / premade meals. But that is just me and my personality. My mother in law came for a few days to help us settle in. After a day, she realized I didn't need help and went home. I would rather make dinner at 3:00 p.m. and cook it later. But that is just me. I am not good at letting people help me. One of my favorite stories from after having Calvin was that my parents came to visit for a few days. They stayed with Laci the second night I was in the hospital. Remember, I do not like help so I didn't think of it as help but as having my parents visit my kids. I came home from the hospital at noon and the first thing I did was make everyone lunch. For others, they may have expected their parents to help with lunch but that's not the way we work. :) With Calvin, I belonged to a small group at church and there were 4 or 5 people that brought dinner by. I loved showing off Calvin when they came by to drop off dinner.

Colds and teething were rough in Laci. When Laci had a cold or was teething, sleep was rough. We struggled. But we survived. I always thought she would have ear infections. She never had any ear infections. Calvin had enough for both kids.

My other secret sleep weapon: swaddling and the Miracle Blanket. We began swaddling Laci when she was 6 weeks old with a blanket called the "Miracle Blanket". I'll be honest that the reason I didn't use it before is because my mom got it for me and I tend to resist any help my mom gives me. This blanket literally changed our life. Laci slept great swaddled. She only woke up to sleep and eat and went right back to sleep. She looked like she was a burrito. But we swaddled until it was unsafe to keep swaddling her and she was waking up out of the swaddle. Other swaddling blankets did not work very well on my babies. They always got out of them. We praised the Miracle Blanket as the greatest thing since sliced bread and was sure that anyone who didn't love it wasn't doing it right. Until Calvin came along. He was a great sleeper - swaddled or unswaddled. We barely used the miracle blanket and we had no problems. Confirming once again that every child is different.

My other baby care secret is routine. I have said it before and I will say it again - Sleep, sleep, sleep!!! We had a routine and we would stick to it religiously! They go to daycare so the routine was often set by daycare. But it is so worth it. Just like bedtime, it was hard to adjust our schedule and our life around naptime. But it is so worth it. Our kids behavior and mood was always dictated by their sleep. Even now, if one of them gets cranky, Charlie threatens to put them to bed. Routine for sleep was critical for us that first year.

One thing that I was surprised to discover that I did not like was a baby monitor. I started with a fancy video monitor. It didn't work so I returned it and got a basic, simple monitor. I didn't realize that babies were so loud when they were asleep. I thought I would keep Laci in the pack and play in our room for months. After 6 weeks of not being able to sleep because of her grunts, I kicked her out into her room. I used the baby monitor but that defeated the purpose of kicking her out. I still couldn't sleep because of her grunting. So I turned the baby monitor off. I learned that babies are not dumb. If they need something, they will cry loud enough until we help them. The baby monitor disappeared. When we moved into our larger house, I thought that maybe I would need the baby monitor. Nope. Same theory still applies. If a baby needs something, they will be heard. I never liked the baby monitor and never plugged it back in.

Another thing that people always talked about was not having any time for themselves. Again, I found the opposite to be true. I picked up reading again. A lot of people watched TV while nursing. I read. In the middle of the night, I never turned on lights or the TV because I didn't want to fully wake up the baby. I think that was why they went right back to sleep. I did a lot of thinking and making lists in that quiet time (interesting fact - I could recite all past presidents). During the day, I read books while nursing. I was flying through books. Even when Calvin was born, I read while nursing. It was either that or watching Nick Jr. with Laci. I have continued the reading habit and read while I eat breakfast every day and even joined a book club.

I nursed both kids exclusively until they were 8 weeks old and then I weaned them so that I was nursing at home and giving them bottles during the day. To me, that was the best of both worlds. I didn't have the hassle of pumping at work, formula is great and they were also getting breastmilk. By 3 months, they both pretty much were done. I was fine with that. one thing that I never understood is why mother beat themselves if they can't nurse for a full year or more. Do the best you can. Your child will be fine. One thing that surprised me is that I was more nervous about my babies health the first two months when I was only nursing and not when I was pregnant. I don't know if it is because I didn't feel like I could screw them up as much when I was pregnant as when I was just nursing or what. I felt 100% responsible for her health when she was born, more than when I was pregnant. That surprised me.

Charlie and I started a great schedule with the kids that we continue now. I changed my hours to 7 - 4. This allowed me to go to work before the baby got up. This was ideal because I didn't want Laci to get in the habit of waking up at 6 am every day. She was conditioned to wake up at 7 even on the weekends. That means I get to sleep until 7 on the weekends. Whohoo! When I was nursing, I pumped a bottle when I woke up and Charlie brought it to daycare and they fed it to her there. Plus, I was able to pick her up at 4:30. With the early bedtime, that extra hour was so important to me.

Our routine in the afternoon was very boring for many years. I pick the kids up, we take a walk, eat dinner, bath, watch TV. Nothing too exciting. No playdates, no story time at the library. Our time when I was home was always just about me and the kids. I cherish that boring routine. Because I know that before long, it will fill up with activities, friends, homework and that simple time will be over. We are right now on the cusp of the simple time being over. I love our simple life.

Last night, I was walking around noting again to myself that toys and the kids have overtaken my house. It drives Charlie crazy. He hates it. I love it. Both bathtubs are filled with toys. Toys are in every nook and cranny of our house. This takes time. The first year is so easy to be neat. I'm glad we had the house for sale the first year. It would be impossible now! The first year the toys are small and still fit in one box. Then they just keep growing and growing and soon they are everywhere.

My biggest tip of all to new mothers is to do it together. My two best friends from high school were expecting their first child at the same time. Unfortunately, they live far away from me but we started a "new mommy" email club. We figured it out together. I learned so much from them and appreciated their advice so much. I think Charlie was annoyed at times because I had to run everything through them first. There is no way that I could have gotten through that first year (and subsequent 4 years) without them. We have been through a lot together.

So there is my first year as a parent in a nutshell. I loved every minute of it. I am looking forward to this next phase of life of life without a baby but I am going to miss it so much!

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