An Epic Toddler Meltdown That Made Total Sense

An Epic Toddler Meltdown That Made Total Sense

The trip from Tel Aviv to Sydney was long – 31 hours door-to-door. It’s full-on for an adult, let alone for a three-year-old and a five-month-old.

GG loved every minute of it. He’s obsessed with planes for starters, plus we had endless time to spend together, and I let him play games on the iPad for the first time – so he was totally in his element. We slept a decent amount on the first flight but only a little on the second, and were all totally exhausted by the time we got to my mother’s place.

Before take-off, flight #1.
Before take-off, flight #1.

So it wasn’t surprising that within an hour of us walking in the door, GG totally melted down. At first it was kind of comical – him and Little A both starting bawling at the same time, and my sister’s newborn (who we’d come all this way to meet) joined in, too. We each took a kid – my sister cuddled hers, mum put my baby down for a nap and I took GG into the lounge room to calm down.

It was clear that this was no ordinary tantrum. He was beyond exhausted, disoriented and completely overwhelmed. Within a few minutes of screaming and crying he started saying over and over that he wanted to go home, and Daddy, and I realized. Fuck. I’d spent so much time preparing him for the journey itself – maybe because that’s what I was nervous about – and totally neglected to explain the part where we were going to stay at his grandmother’s place in Sydney for two-and-a-half weeks. Without his dad. Fuck. What a colossal oversight.

While I was trying to hold him screaming and thrashing around I fumbled for a way to rectify my mistake. But how to explain it in three-year-old? He doesn’t understand the concept of weeks. He doesn’t know that trips end eventually. He can’t text his dad whenever he misses him a bit.

I took a punt.

“Remember when your friend Ella went to America?”

He paused, interested. He loves Ella, and the story was recent. He nodded.

“Remember how each day you went to kindergarten, and she wasn’t there? And your teacher told you she was in Los Angeles? And you really missed her?”

He nodded again. His breathing was starting to calm and the crazed, out-of-control look in his eyes was starting to soften. He was engaged.

“And then one day, after a couple of weeks, she was back! Do you remember?”

He smiled, “Yes! And I went to America once.” It’s true, we’d visited New York the previous year, too.

“So that’s what this trip is going to be like. We’re going to stay here at Nanna’s place for two-and-a-half weeks, for this many days [I showed him with my fingers]. Each night we’ll go to sleep here, and wake up here the next morning. And then when those days have passed, we’re going to head back home, to Daddy. We’ll take two planes to get home, with a night in a hotel in the middle.”

He got it.

“Mama I have an idea,” he said. “Let’s pretend that this is our home. Just for now.”

He totally nailed it. It was just so fucking sweet and perfect. I hugged him again. “That’s exactly it baby. That’s what a holiday is. This is our home for now, while we’re in Australia. And then we’ll go back to our real home.”

And that was it. He literally skipped into the kitchen for a snack.

It took another week until he completely settled. A week for the jetlag to pass, to feel at home in his new “pretend” home. But every time I said we were going home after an outing or a visit, GG had to check – “home to Nanna’s place?” – just to make sure he still understood the plan.

The conversation was a real eye-opener for me. I’d been so hung up on my anxieties about the trip – particularly 24 hours of flights, alone with two small children – that I’d forgotten to fill the kids in on the whole picture. It’s not that I hadn’t considered them of course – I’d gone over and over what sort of visit would be best for both of them, the balance between activities and chill out time, who we’d see when, where they would each sleep etc. To the point of distraction, really. But I hadn’t done the full circle that is so often the key. I hadn’t kept GG in the loop, of his own life.

In a more general sense, the conversation was a reminder for me that kids don’t just lose their shit for no reason. On top of the basic stuff that makes us all more sensitive – like hunger and tiredness – there’s also usually a misunderstanding that needs to be cleared up. Often with toddlers it seems completely illogical – like we didn’t ask them what color spoon they wanted or some crap – but this one made perfect sense. Just like adults, kids need – and deserve – to be informed about what’s going to happen to them. I certainly wouldn’t want to be dragged halfway around the world without at least being told the basic itinerary details. Why should it be any different for my kids?

So, to GG and Little A – this is my promise to you. I’ll do my best to keep you in the loop, with big things and little things alike. To help give you a sense of control and order over your world wherever I can. I’ll prepare you in language that you can understand, with points of reference that make sense to you. I’ll talk to you in advance, and remind you of the plan as necessary.

And if I’m ever not clear enough, if you still don’t get it, please feel free to cry. Even to flail around a bit. To let me know that I haven’t quite got it yet. I’ll try again and again, until you get it.

Promise.

When Savasana Smells Like Pee

When Savasana Smells Like Pee

My yoga teacher, like most yoga teachers, is always going on about how five minutes of savasana is equal to three hours of sleep. How they do that calculation I have no idea but this morning I could really do with an extra three hours of sleep. It’s been one of those weeks.

So I decided, screw it. Instead of spending another five minutes staring blankly at my screen trying to remember what I was working on, folding washing or throwing something in the slow cooker, I’m going to try it.

I opened my meditation app (which apparently needs to be updated because I haven’t used it in I hate to think how long) and set a timer for five minutes. I lay down on the ground, in the corpse position. It was quite easy, really – I kind of feel like a corpse most of the time anyway. I brought my attention to the tingling sensations of my muscles relaxing, the supportive feeling of the carpet beneath me. I made my mind body-shaped.

And each time my mind started to wander, I remembered the subtle threat in my yoga teacher’s tone when she explained how the magic five-minutes-for-three-hours-time-swap works – you have to really do savasana. Not just lay there thinking about whether or not the baby’s about to wake up, or if she’ll take a bottle later today, or the blog post you’re gonna write in a few minutes. So I took heed and let it all go, melting into the ground, bringing myself back to the present moment time and time again.

By the time the gong went off I was actually totally relaxed, tingly and floating. I slowly stretched my neck, turning my head from side to side and took a deep breath. Left was the baby’s change mat, so I probably rubbed my face on poo. Right was a distinct aroma of urine, and I was reminded that my toddler had an accident in that very spot a few weeks ago. Oops. Back to reality.

Do I feel like I had three hour’s sleep? Who knows. I can’t really remember what that feels like to be honest. But I do like to think my eyes are stinging a tiny bit less than they were earlier, and I might just lay on the floor and pretend to be dead for a few minutes tomorrow, too.

Seriously, All I Had to Do Was Ask?

Seriously, All I Had to Do Was Ask?

This afternoon started out pretty much the same as yesterday afternoon – with whining and tears and ridiculously illogical arguments about whether or not we had bananas in the car. My heart sank. I’d hoped that bringing GG a special treat from the bakery when I picked him up from kindergarten might set the tone for a nice afternoon. No such luck. He didn’t like the way the bread stick crumbled onto his jeans, he screamed when it broke into two pieces, and when I refused to eat part of it according to his demands, five minutes of yelling and tears ensued.

And I’m okay with tears, really. He can cry on my shoulder, or on my chest wedged between my boobs as is his usual preference, as much as he wants. I’m good with emotional expression. But yesterday afternoon was just so tough, four hours of tantrum after tantrum with basically no breaks in between. I was terrified of a repeat performance. On top of the patience required to help a toddler through these onslaughts of feelings, when I need to feed 2-month-old Little A, GG’s full-blown tantrums escalate from peak level to … somehow even more extreme.

So we’d made it into the apartment. About a meter into the apartment. All three of us on the floor. Little A was in her baby car seat, crying to be taken out. GG was crying about a mark on his banana. I had tears in my eyes myself at the realization that today was going to be just like yesterday.

And then I remembered something GG’s kindergarten teacher had mentioned when I told her how hard the previous afternoon had been. She said that he was probably continuing the special circumstances from his week home sick with the flu. And this morning she warned my husband not to let it drag on. At the time we kind of didn’t know what to do with those statements. Like, how was I meant to “not let” him cry? It didn’t seem to fit with our parenting style at all.

But in this moment on the floor, I looked at my little boy on my lap, tears streaming down his cheeks, ranting about wanting something or not wanting something else, I don’t even remember anymore, and I thought, he looks so out of control, like it’s all too much. Like he has no idea what he’s meant to be doing. Like a week of rules being thrown out the window because he was just so miserable had totally confused him.

Like he really needed some boundaries.

And so I turned him around to face me, and I told him, “Sweetheart, you and me, we can figure anything out. If you need something just ask me and I’ll always do my best to help you.”

He was listening. I went on, “Let me tell you what I want. I want us to have a nice calm afternoon together. I don’t like it when we fight so much. Do you think you can find a way to ask me for things other than yelling?”

He agreed, and straight away something in his mood lifted. And yet 2 minutes later he started whining and yelling “no! no! no!” when I denied his request for a second banana. I calmly told him that this was the sort of yelling I’d mentioned before, and he took a deep breath, and asked me again calmly. And then even managed to accept my repeated “no” to his banana and move on.

The next time he started to yell he caught himself before I even said anything, and a look of realization seemed to pass over his face. He understood that this was the voice I’d been talking about, and he smiled. And that was it.

We had such a fun afternoon. We ate, we played, he helped his baby sister get to sleep for her nap. We read books. Three solid hours of good wholesome fun.

When my husband came home he couldn’t believe it, how I’d “fixed” him. The energy in the house felt completely different from the past couple of weeks. Bath and bed time were a breeze, and GG went to bed with smile on his face.

But I didn’t fix him, of course. There will be tantrums and crappy afternoons again. All I did was remind him what was expected of him, and ask for his cooperation. Clearly, calmly, and in a way he could understand.

And what a freaking champion is he, right?

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(Okay this was actually a couple of weeks ago but it fits nicely here)
Aside

Babe, You’re Gonna Need a New Yoga Block

I’m on the way to work, sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on my new one-hour daily commune, when my husband calls to update me on drop off. He sounds uncharacteristically defeated.

“Babe,” he says gingerly, “I think you’re going to need a new yoga block.”

I’ve got two options – laugh or cry. This week I’m choosing laugh. Last week was mostly cry.

It’s been a tough month. GG finished up at the daycare he’s been at (and loved) for two years. My grandmother passed away back in Australia. At 33 weeks pregnant I wasn’t able to fly over for the funeral and to be with my family. We moved cities. GG started a new kindergarten. And did I mention I’m a bit pregnant? Between my hormones, my husband’s exhaustion and our two-year-old’s emotional reactions… I don’t even know what words to use.

Last week the language that came to mind was pretty harsh. Now it feels like we’re a cartoon family. Toddler running out onto the road and peeing on things around the house to get attention (like my yoga block), me groaning and holding my lower back when I have to bend over to pick things up, the husband staying up late to get extra work done so we can cover our new mortgage. Oh so textbook and mundane.

When I’m my best self, which is only for fleeting moments right now, I remind myself that it’s all impermanent. That we’ll get used to our beautiful new house and all the arrangements that come with it, and GG will settle into his new kindergarten. That this testing behavior is totally normal for a toddler at the best of times – let alone during a month like this. That my pelvic floor will get better (right after it gets worse). That this too will pass….

And hopefully we’ll have a few days to enjoy the calm before I go into labor and we get to meet #2.

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Stay tuned for updates 🙂

Yet Another Blog Post About Sleep

Yet Another Blog Post About Sleep

As if the internet needed more confused parents babbling about their children’s sleep habits.

But I can’t help myself. Despite having previously established that I am not a sleep trainer or any sort of expert on the matter – far from it – every time we have a breakthrough with GG’s sleep I feel the urge to shout it from the rooftops.

Lucky me, I have a blog. My own proverbial rooftop.

Up until this week, we’ve been sitting with GG as he falls asleep. Getting to the point where we weren’t touching him at all seemed like enough of a victory for now, plus we both work full-time and took a certain enjoyment (most of the time!) from those sweet moments before he drifts off.

Now that he’s started speaking (full paragraphs in two languages, no less), bed-time was turning into a 45-minute lecture, two-year-old style. Hilarious and cute but not so relaxing or conducive to sleep.

Added to that was the knowledge in the back of my mind that in a few months time there’s gonna be another little guy or gal in the picture, and I don’t want bedtime to turn into more of a madhouse than it needs to be.

So we decided it was time for GG to start going to sleep by himself. In a rare still moment I told him what was going to be different that night. Daddy would read him two stories, tuck him into bed, and then say goodnight and leave the room. If he needed us we’d be right outside the door. And he was like *shrug* ok. Whatever you guys think is best.

Bedtime comes along and what do you know – he went to sleep by himself without a smidge of resistance, and woke up happy as anything 11 hours later. The last few nights have been variations on the same – he sometimes calls out a few times for reassurance but ultimately the kid is cool with his new bedtime routine.

So had we been wasting our time for past few months? Sitting with him when he could have been doing it himself? I don’t think so. Just like every other time we’ve made a change and it’s gone smoothly, I feel like this came at just the right time. I believe that the resistance that GG showed when we tried to work with a sleep trainer when he was seven months old was him saying that he wasn’t ready.

And perhaps more importantly – neither were we. A smooth, intentional behavior change when it comes to parenting has two sides – theirs and ours. Whenever I’m totally at peace with what I’m asking GG to do, he reads that straight away and feels comfortable with the change.

Bottom line – you’ve just gotta own it. And I’m so freaking proud of both of us right now! Sweet dreams. 

My 2-Year-Old is Teaching Me to Read

My 2-Year-Old is Teaching Me to Read

Every step along the way of this lovely journey of motherhood, GG has been my little guide. Teaching me to push past the hang ups I’ve spent three decades accumulating and find my best self. This week’s course: reading aloud in my second language, Hebrew.

Two years ago when he was born, my Hebrew was already decent. I could hold a conversation on basically anything, translate formal documents and watch full-length movies with ease. But reading aloud was always a struggle. There’s something about the process that just irks me – always has, since my first days of learning Hebrew as a kid. I hate feeling stupid – I guess everyone does – but sounding stupid is just so much worse. Even in university I would do everything possible to get out of reading aloud.

No such luck with a kid – especially one that loves books as much as this one. I tried for a while – “no, Mama doesn’t read in Hebrew,” “how about a book from the left-hand side of the shelf,” “ooo let’s read One Woolly Wombat!” … but he’s too smart for that crap. He knows what he wants and he wants it now. He’d give me this crushing are-you-kidding-me-I-heard-you-speaking-Hebrew-a-mile-a-minute-like-an-hour-ago-pick-up-the-book-woman look and eventually I realized, the game is up – time to get over this insecurity.

So the last few months I’ve just been going for it. Taking it slow when I need to, laughing at myself (usually I have company on that one – thanks boys!), and putting my ego aside enough to ask my husband to translate words I don’t know. At first I would only agree to read Hebrew books that I’d heard read a few times before, but lately even that is changing. I bought GG a new book the other day (it’s about a 3-year-old tractor who makes a funny noise when he “walks” – super cute) – and have read it to him dozens of times now without any help. And he loves it.

The knowledge that in GG’s eyes I am almost certainly not a stupid immigrant with a weird Australian accent has been the perfect catalyst to further develop my Hebrew – and hopefully save him some embarrassment down the line when his view of my perfection inevitably changes shape. Until then, I’m thankful for my little guru and these unexpected pockets of learning, these situations that shine a light on the things about myself that I can actually change – just by putting my ego aside and being with my kid.

Laughing with me or laughing at me?

 

I Am Not a Sleep Trainer, But…

I Am Not a Sleep Trainer, But…

I am not a sleep trainer – far from it – but I have learnt a few things about babies and sleep over the past two years. While there are no hard and fast rules, these are five things I’ve found to be true:

1. Sleep begets sleep 

It’s true for me and it’s true for my kid. When I’m tired I get hyper, and it’s much harder for me to wind down for sleep. And then when I do manage to drift off, my sleep quality tends to be terrible.

Surprise surpise – babies and toddlers are people too! When GG goes to bed too late, he’s more likely to wake through the night, have trouble getting back to sleep, and get up for the day at some ungodly hour like 4am.

2. Boundaries are not punishments 

This is a hard one for me, but it’s crucial. Firm boundaries on important issues (such as sleep, safety and violence) make kids feel safe. Of course when I put it like this it sounds like a no-brainer, but it doesn’t always feel so straightforward to me.

Take the last few weeks for example: there’s been a lot going on in our household. GG is about to turn two and going through like a billion developmental milestones all at one time and probably cutting four molars as well, plus we just moved him from a cot to a bed. His dad is finishing up one job and about to start a new one. I lost another pregnancy last month. The weather has turned decidedly wintery, it’s cold season at daycare… etc. There are a million and one reasons for GG’s sleep to suffer, and suffer it did. We’ve had a string of terrible nights, from serious bedtime resistance to three-hour wake ups in the middle of the night.

Gadi's new bed
GG trying out his new bed

 

At first, to be honest, I mainly used my heart to deal with the issue. We cuddled in his bed, I sang whatever song he requested a million times, I let him sleep on my chest. I figured he was getting sick or teething or reacting to my emotional turmoil.

But it didn’t help. Instead, what I did was exacerbate the situation. And instead of a few days of bad sleep, we ended up with a couple of weeks.

No one is at their best after a couple of weeks of dodgy sleep.

After a few heated arguements on the topic and a chat with a wise friend, I realized something that I already knew but evidently needed to re-learn: toddlers need boundaries. Like, about as much as they need food and love and comfort. For whatever reason, GG was feeling out of control, and what he need was for me to help him reign in it.

So why was this hard for me? In my sleep-deprived mind, it felt like being more strict would be like punishing him for having a hard time – which is not my parenting style at all. In fact, the opposite was true. By reinstating his previous routine (set bedtime, falling asleep by himself with me sitting next to the bed, staying in bed if he wakes up during the night, set “morning” time etc), I was helping him find solid ground.

Which brings me to my next point…

3. Shit changes ALL THE TIME

This is an essential truth of life, a fact of our existence, but I feel like it’s especially true for kids. Just when we parents feel like we’ve got it all under control… bam! New phase.

And that’s okay – it’s a good thing. It means they’re learning and growing and developing. Our job as parents, as guides for these little people who are but new to earthly ways, is to stay consistent. To show them that yes, things change, but there’s always something you can hang on to. Me and your dad. We’ve got it under control (most of the time). So even though you’re feeling sick or you’re confused about something or you had a weird day, bedtime will still be the same.

4. You’re not gonna change the kid

This is really important. GG is very much his own person. He has personality traits that we noticed on Day One that are still strong today, and I’m guessing they’ll stay with him throughout his life. My job as his mama is to help him work with what he’s got, and find ways to be the best little dude he can possibly be.

So, when it comes to sleep – I’ve accepted that I’m not going to change him into the kid who runs to his bed at naptime, sleeps for 14 hours when he’s sick or drifts off while we’re reading a book. I’m not that person either, and though I’ve learnt to appreciate sleep, I’d still pretty much always rather be hanging out and having fun than “wasting time” sleeping.

What I can do for him is help implement good habits and positive associations around sleep. Ultimately, the rest is on him.

5. Lastly, every time I write a post about sleep, everything goes to shit

Seriously, it’s like this blog has super-powers. Every time we go through a rough patch and then I decide I’ve cracked the code and should share my infinite wisdom with you fine peoples, something changes and we’re back to Square One. At which point I’ll just need to come back and read point three above I suppose.

Sweet dreams!