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Sleep Training Series Part 4: Sleeping Independently

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything on Sleep Training, precisely because not much has changed in three years with respect to our sleeping habits.

The girls still both sleep in our bed.

We still have this whole ritual of “bath, bed and book” before we say our prayers, turn off the lights and turn on the sleepy music.  But they still require my presence in the room; specifically in between them both with arms wrapped around them.  Yes, I’ve turned into a lovey.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the snuggle time and the late night conversations.   I’m well aware they are fleeting but sometimes, I really just need a breather.  My focus and all my energy during the day are already dedicated to them and the home:  what they need, what they eat, their daily activities, the chores, etc.  There’s not much else I do for myself apart from the occasional bathroom breaks.

Also, sometimes I’m just too exhausted that I fall asleep when my head hits the pillow, and so much is left undone.  Usually the time I use to work is when they’re all in bed — and that hasn’t been happening very often lately because I turn into sleeping Snoring Beauty — as my fellow Two Tots Moms like to call it.

But it is also exhausting to have the girls in my bed.  My sleep is nowhere near restful, since they both squish up to me and when I wake up I have anywhere from a foot to half of their bodies on different parts of mine.  It’s no wonder I wake up tired every morning.

This is a typical sleep pattern, according to my Fitbit.
This is a typical sleep pattern, according to my Fitbit. Yeeesh!

Sam is the one who clings to me when bedtime rolls around, and as the older sibling, she sets the tone for Jamie too.  She’s always asking what it is I have to do and why I can’t lie down and sleep with between them just yet.  I’ve tried every gentle measure I could think of and every kind of positive reinforcement to get this habit to change.  I’m short of bribing her to sleep with toys and chocolates (I haven’t gone that far!).

Luckily enough, I didn’t have to.  Thanks to Girl Scouts!

Two weekends ago our Girl Scout troop scheduled an overnight camping at one of their program centers.  It was basically a facility with a fenced-in backyard, and our troop leader said if our daughter wanted to go and it was her first time, then we moms had to go too.  They didn’t want to have to call us in the middle of the night if our girls came out crying asking for us.

Of course, when it comes to Girl Scouts (and earning a badge), Sam is 200% all in.

I prepped her as best as I could for this day, and that meant trying to fall asleep without me at night.  I didn’t want to force her but she really wanted to go camping, and so while it seemed like she was torn about it, every night she would try.  She’d definitely succeed, because by the time she’s settled and the questions have stopped, it only takes her a few minutes and then she’s out like a light.  She definitely doesn’t do it without a lengthy repeated discussion though.

She was excited about the trip and sleeping with her friends, and we tried to focus on that.  I involved her when we packed her overnight bag and chose her sleeping bag.  I even taught her to bathe herself, just in case.  We kept it as part of our regular conversations with friends and she seemed excited and determined to try.

On the day of the trip the girls set up their own tent and got to choose who they’d sleep with.

We're all learning to set up a tent.
We’re all learning to set up a tent.


Sam seemed fine and it looked like she would be able to do it.  The whole day she stayed with her friends and did the activities.  Then at night, she said good night to me and walked away with her friends while I stayed inside and prepared my own bed.

Jamie stayed with me and said good night to her Ate.
Jamie stayed with me and said good night to her Ate.

My first reaction was relief.  FINALLY!  Maybe this was the next step we needed.  Thoughts about reviving the topic of sleeping in their own room came flooding back.  And for a first time attempt for a night out with friends in a strange unfamiliar place, she was doing really well.  I was proud; this was a huge, huge deal!

And then of course, the mixed feelings washed over me and I suddenly got sentimental.  I missed my big little baby.  I don’t remember my parents ever allowing me to sleep away from home and in a tent at that.

I’ve to admit, it’s moments like these when I want to trade in a good night’s sleep and the undone chores and keep them in my bed for longer.

That lasted for a few hours because the fatigue I was accustomed to set in.  Sam had trouble falling asleep, and I had to go up to her tent twice to talk to her.  We eventually made a deal that if in an hour’s time she wasn’t able to fall asleep, I’d finally take her inside with me to bed so we could both get some rest.  At that point, I was more than happy to accept she wasn’t ready to sleep away from me, in a tent or otherwise, and maybe moving into her own room would be more traumatic than beneficial for either of us.  But, (And I think it was because there was a badge involved…) Sam asked to try one last time.

Photo Credit: Patti
Photo Credit: Patti

Our troop leader came in shortly after and said Sam finally dozed off so I didn’t go back outside.  It was a good thing too because my airbed failed me and I ended up on the hard concrete floor (ouch!).

I woke up the next morning and I found her up and playing with her tent mates.  I estimated she got a total of 6 hours of sleep at best, half of what she’s used to.  She was in good spirits though for having accomplished what she did.  Her tent mates did a good job too of helping her through it and gave her the positive reinforcement she needed to stay and not ask for mom.

Happy chatter in the wee hours of the morning.
Happy chatter in the wee hours of the morning.

So we survived, and there was no crying from either of us ;).  And ever since then, Sam has gone to bed with less of a fuss.  She asks me to stay a while, and eventually she’ll let me leave and will quietly fall asleep with just Jamie beside her.  When my evening’s done, I still crawl into bed between them.  It’s a happy compromise for now.  Some nights still aren’t that restful, but I’ll take the small wins where I can get them.  At the very least, we’re making progress, one baby step at a time.

The Moral of the Story:  When you need to sleep-train your child, sign them up for Girl Scouts. 😉


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The Constipated Child

Warning:  Potty Talk coming up!

Seriously, when was poop ever cute?!
Seriously, when was poop ever cute?!

If there’s one thing I dread about raising kids, it’s when they get constipated.

From the moment they’re born, counting bowel movements on a daily basis and checking the color and consistency of their poop become your “thing” as a mother.  Why?  Because regular bowel movements are a sign your child is okay.  Some doctors say babies can go for 3 or 4 days without passing stool, but at that point, who wouldn’t worry!  Can I normal adult go 3-4 days without passing dirt?!

I know I used to worry a lot when that would happen (because it happened to both my girls several times).  I would PRAY for poop.  I really would.  And after the agony of waiting and I’d finally see (smell) poop in the Pamper, I would rejoice.  In fact, I don’t think I was ever happier.

I couldn't have said it better.
I couldn’t have said it better.

Things got trickier as they got older, because then they had a say in their food choice.  One of my children in particular (I will not divulge who!) is quite the stubborn eater.  She loves cheese, milk, ice cream, juice… all the things that can easily constipate a child.  For a time she loved guacamole too — like that helped.  Where’s the fiber in her diet?  She refused it (thankfully now she likes strawberries, but I’ll get to the history behind that in a minute).

Because I fear she will be constipated (and often enough I’m right), I try to talk her into eating better.  Sometimes I’m successful and a crisis is averted.  Other times, I’m not.  And oh boy….

Back in Manila it happened a lot because my daughter was often left with well-meaning help who’d just give her what she wanted to eat.  Of course, come pooping time, who does she scream for when belly aches and nothing comes out?

During those times I feel the most helpless.  I hold her.  I give her water.  I rub her stomach and I rub her back.  But that’s basically all I can do.  She’s got to pass the poop through her system herself.  Most of the time there is screaming.  There are loads of tears.  One time, I used a suppository.  I think that scarred her for life because now she freaks at the mere suggestion of it.

Thankfully after each “episode”, we live to live another day.  I hope each time that the lesson is learned, and history doesn’t repeat itself.  Then again, she’s a child.  And of course, history DOES.  REPEAT. ITSELF.  And the helpless feeling washes over me.  AGAIN.

Oh how I wish this was her thought bubble!  Photo credit goes to website mentioned above.
Oh how I wish this was her thought bubble! Photo credit goes to website mentioned above.

In fact it’s more than that — I end up feeling like a bad parent for letting it happen (again!).  I should’ve found a way to stop it, by hook or by crook.  I should find a better solution for it.

And then I think about Coach Pia’s lessons on allowing them to experience the Natural Consequence of things.  Strangely these constipated episodes (that sounds weird) helped me understand this entire concept better.

As a parent, there’s really only so much we can do.  We love our children and we want to keep them from getting hurt and experiencing pain.  But sometimes protecting them from it doesn’t make them more capable.  Sometimes it doesn’t teach them the lesson.  And it’s not like we don’t warn them to begin with.  Experiencing the mistake for themselves is more powerful than any parental heed you can offer.  Sometimes, it has to happen over and over again for the lesson to stick.  Coach Pia says eventually it will, and eventually they will get it.  What’s important is that we as parents are there to see them through it, even if it means doing it over and over again too.


And so, after getting constipated for the nth time (and surviving), the lesson finally stuck.  Now she heeds my warning when I try to inject some form of fiber into her diet and she refuses.  She takes a pause at the thought of her “butt-butt” being “owie”.  I suppose the wheels in her head have finally clicked, because she miraculously agrees to eat the food I offer, and is eager to drink MORE glasses of water.

Thankfully, we’ve not had any episode since we left Manila.  And her food repertoire is slowly expanding to voluntarily include fiber.  It has gotten easier, but it was quite the journey.  And now hopefully it will soon become a lasting healthy habit, and I will not have to worry anymore about screaming, tearful potty sessions.

It’s funny what parenting lessons poop can teach you.

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Taking Toddlers to Church

Yesterday at mass, in the pew directly beside me was a toddler, with her yaya (nanny) and her mom alongside some other people.  I don’t know how old she was exactly, but she struck me as someone who had just turned two (thereabouts).

The reason why they — she– caught my attention was because this cute little toddler with bangs and a very chic outfit, was letting out ear-piercing shrieks, THROUGHOUT the entire hour.  And it didn’t just happen once or twice; it was constant; like she timed herself — approximately every 3 minutes  Her shrieks would echo through the church (as churches have such good acoustics!), and people would turn and stare.  And I was right beside it all when it would happen each time, so my eardrums couldn’t recover before the next shriek was released.  All throughout, her mom and nanny only did something about it once (and it didn’t even work — in fact it resulted in louder cries).  Somewhere in the middle I realized that the man at the end of the pew was also her dad, who was totally ignoring this little scene for the entire hour.

I relay this anecdote not to pass judgement.  As God (and so many other members of various congregations!) is (are) my witness, I have had my own fair share of disruptive, unruly toddlers to handle while at Church.  In fact I was doing my best not to stare because I know it’s the last thing any mom needs.  I sympathized, and empathized, and I felt the best way I could help was to pay-it-forward relay my own attempts at getting my kids to behave when I bring them with me to Church.

My girls outside with Mama Mary.  They behaved really well that Ash Wednesday when we went.
My girls outside with Mama Mary. They behaved really well that Ash Wednesday when we went.

The first thing that rings in my head are Coach Pia’s wise words:  Don’t put toddlers in a situation where they will fail you. Children are children.  They will run around, want to make noise and laugh out loud — without really meaning to be disruptive.  It might be a little too much to expect them to sit still for an hour and keep their mouths closed the whole time.  Even adults struggle with that too, so how can we expect that from five-year olds and three-year olds?  Hence, I don’t (yet) force my girls to come to Church with me.

When they do, there’s a lot of preparation involved.  I’ve found that asking them and involving them as to what the expected proper behavior is in “Brother Jesus'” house, helps instill it in their brains and thoughts more.  Instead of making it sound like a lecture, I have them participate.  “We need to be quiet,” says one.  “We have to sit down,” says another, “we don’t bother other people”.  Sometimes I get the question of “can we bring toys?”  — or snacks — and occasionally I’ve allowed it, for as long as they’re “quiet toys”, like Bunny.  As Sam got older though I’ve told her to eat before leaving, out of respect.  She learns about the proper behavior in her school and I reinforce that as much as I can.  I explain that Jamie is younger and her stomach is smaller, and she will eventually learn.  The rule will apply to her later on.

Yet even then, I still adjust my expectations.  I don’t expect them to remember and sit still the whole time.  I don’t expect the consistency.  We’ve started doing things — and expecting things — in baby steps.  There are times that we only stay in church for 20 minutes because that’s all the girls can handle.  Sometimes it’s longer.  There are times they are quiet, but they will not sit still.  The best outcomes are when they’re well rested, well fed, and have made a trip to the potty.  The gentle reminders still have to come in, but they are not harsh and stern (this is me applying my #betterme lessons on Disciplining with Love).

Sometimes, it’s just one thing at a time.  One objective at a time.  They are quiet but walking in the side aisles near me, I let them.  For as long as they don’t bother, I give them a little room to move.   Too many restrictions won’t help us, I’ve learned.

Rather than pointing out the things that they cannot do, I’ve begun pointing out the things they can do, such as putting money in the Offertory basket.  Or light a candle after the ceremony.  And even singing — our church has TV screens and the words of each song come out when they’re being sung.  Since my girls can read, I tell them to look at the words and sing them along.  Jamie doesn’t have all her words down yet but because she loves music and she picks up on tunes and melodies so quickly, she mouths along.  I also let them say their own prayers out loud after communion.  If they use their speaking voices and say it close to my ear, then they aren’t really being that loud.

The girls also know some of the songs because we learn them at home.  Sometimes at night, they are in our prayers.  So when the girls hear them sung in Church, there is some form of recognition, and confidence to sing along.

The article from The Domestic Fringe on getting kids to sit still in Church, had tips which also helped in teaching the kids to sit still.  Start teaching them at home.  And if in Church they need to go outside, don’t let them run free.  Hold them still because it’s still part of the hour when they do need to sit still (this was an AHA moment for me!  It’s not a punishment to sit still inside, it’s just something that needs to be done).

Now I know that with everything I’ve said, it doesn’t sound like I get to “hear mass” much.  We’re physically present but not always mentally there.  But as I’ve explained to the girls, it is an important part of my week to go to Sunday Mass, and I want it to be the same for them eventually.  I feel that they understand that and are slowly coming to appreciate it as part of our weekly routine.  At the same time, I’ve come to accept that these are the learning years, and they only way they’ll really learn is if we do it over and over again.  In that sense, I’ve had to adjust my expectations about going to mass when I bring them along.

After each visit to Church, I’ve found the girls respond positively when I recognize the good things that they were able to accomplish while we were there.  And I say thank you too, because by doing so they let me have the time I needed to pray.

I do have to say this too though:  As a mom I fully understand that there are days when you can’t leave the kids at home and you still want to go to Church.  I also understand that when there, you want some time to think and pray and just be free of the constant needs of the kids.  But as it is a house of prayer, it’s also not the time and place to execute a teaching moment when children are rowdy or disruptive.  And if it means having to step out and cut your time short, so that the other people can pray in peace then it’s something I would encourage.  I believe we don’t do God any injustice if we attend to the needs of our children first, even when it happens in His house.

So to the parents and yaya of the little girl yesterday, I can’t imagine yesterday was easy.  I said a prayer for you, and for all of us with aching eardrums.  Maybe next week if we run into each other again, it will be much easier on us all.  Amen. 🙂


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Something To Teach Our Kids: It’s Ok Not To Be Ok

As the holidays came and went, so did the many social gatherings.  I used to be able to keep up with all of that, but now as a mom (and okay… I’m no spring chicken anymore!), I really just… can’t.  Plain and simple.  More than the physical fatigue that I feel, it’s the emotional drain on myself and on the girls.  Who else will deal with them through their highs and their lows but me?  We moms tend to be the last line of defense, are we not?!

It was during the holidays when this happened the most, hence the reference to the season (and all its stresses).  Because of the constant change in schedules, the festivities and all the holiday activities, the kids were constantly overtired.  Their whole schedule was disrupted and there was hardly any part of their routine that was strictly followed.  In fact, pretty much all sorts of rules are broken or bent.  And it brought out all sorts of characters and personalities in my usually manageable set of sisters, and in myself too.  I’ve come to the conclusion that the holidays are a recipe for tantrums, meltdowns, and just about any or all kinds of emotional stress.  That goes for both the parent and for the child.

And it was in this season when I found myself resorting to the phrase “It’s okay“, more than I would have liked to (and more than I should have).   It was an absent-minded, please-give-me-some-peace response to just about every other whine, defiant response, cry or tussle that came my way.

Mama she’s not sharing!  She’s not giving me a turn!” — It’s okay, it’s okay.

Mama she grabbed!” — It’s okay, no big deal.

“But Mama she ate chocolate and didn’t eat dinner!” — It’s okay we’ll wash it down with water.

But Mama, I don‘t LIKE this dress!” — It’s okay.  It’s fine.

“Ouchie Mama I hurt my toe!”  — It’s okay.  Stop crying you’re fine.

Saying “it’s okay”, — I felt (and still do feel) — was really a cop-out for handling the situation and teaching my children how to deal with conflict and their own feelings.  I was busy.  I was tired; I was overtired.  I was preoccupied with other things.  I just wanted the crying to stop!  And I really just wanted some semblance of peace.  But that doesn’t make the standard “it’s okay” response right.

Saying “it’s okay” when a child is hurting (physically or otherwise), speaking their mind or calling out a bad behavior will send them mixed signals.  “Why is it okay that other people are allowed to grab but we’re not?”  “How can it be okay?  I feel hurt!”  It’s just not the appropriate response, no matter how I’m feeling as a person.

And I’ve noticed it resonates a lot in our society and our culture too.  Collectively we seem to be a people who are conflict-avoidant.  We seek harmony and happiness, particularly in social gatherings when all is supposed to go pleasantly.  It’s definitely an eyesore (or an ear-sore) to have a whiny, child crying and the easiest route would be to give them what they want or to shush them out so that things can move forward as planned.

This is what I call: Tantrum-in-progress.  And we had to be somewhere 10 mins ago.
This is what I call: Tantrum-in-progress. And we had to be somewhere 10 mins ago.

But children — my children — also don’t really care about agendas, or schedules.  They feel how they feel when they feel it.  And as a parent it’s my responsibility to teach my children the right values.  They will first learn to acknowledge how they feel from me.  They will learn that it’s okay to not be okay, and that it’s also important to express it.  There is a right time and place to correct their behavior too, and it may not be at that time when all emotions are running high (what Coach Pia calls finding the teaching moment).

I remember, in a session with Coach Pia, she mentioned that as parents we have a greater responsibility towards our children.  Therefore, if it means having to set aside our own feelings first to ensure their well-being (to guide them correctly and address their own concerns), then it must be done.  We are adults after all, we can wait.  They are children.  They don’t have the capacity yet to set their own feelings aside.  And at a young age, they shouldn’t have to.

In fact, it’s actually “okay” to say — it’s not okay.  “I’m not okay mom”, is one way Sam gets my attention because she needs to talk to me about something.  She didn’t like how she was treated by a playmate.  She didn’t feel good about doing something I asked her to do.  She’s tired, hungry, sleepy, or feeling ill.  She has every right to not be okay, and by acknowledging it I can help her process it.  I want her to be aware and to know how to handle herself or what to do the next time that happens With Jamie, I realized it takes a while for her to come to terms with things.  So sometimes, I let her cry it out, or sulk.  I give her the words to express how she’s feeling.  The next time around hopefully she knows she’ll be okay “not to be okay”, and she can process it faster

Jamie is "processin" Rosie.  I heard her say, "Look at me, what's the matter."  Must have learned that from me!
Jamie is “processing” Rosie. I heard her say, “Look at me, what’s the matter.” Must have learned that from me!

Am I coddling my kids too much?  I really don’t think so.  In fact I feel that by allowing them to “not be ok”, they’re still going through the experience, but with some guidance as to how to make it out on the opposite end.  They’re still learning how to deal with their feelings, because if I don’t teach them, they will learn it from somewhere else (and that is not okay with me!).  After all, we can’t expect them to know what to do if they’ve never been taught it before!

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Five Years of Motherhood

Last night we took the girls to watch Disney’s new animation release, Frozen.  It was Sam’s request — as part of her “I just turned 5” endless celebration.  So even if it was a school night, we decided we’d go ahead with it.  Anyway, we were all pretty excited to see it too.  The girls have been watching the trailer on TV, and I remember watching a version of the story of the Snow Queen growing up.  There’s a clear imprint in my memory of a girl having to go to the snow queen to save her friend and melt the cold with her tears or something like that.  But knowing Disney, they always do wonderful surprising things and twists with old  tales and I was very curious to see what they did with this one.

The New Disney release.  A must-see! :)
The New Disney release. A must-see! 🙂

When the critics say it’s “loosely adapted” from Hans Christian Andersen, I’d have to agree.  Apart from the use of a “snow queen”, everything else is pretty different.  And as it has been in the past with other Disney adaptations, I actually do like this one better. 🙂

Frozen is a tale of the love between two sisters.  And maybe it’s because of everything that’s been going lately, or maybe it’s because I’m a mother with two girls close together in age… or maybe it’s because Sam is 5 (I always always cry around her birthday!  No fail so far!) —  I got all emotional about the movie and it struck several chords.  I teared up more than a few times.

Some of the scenes and parts of the story aren’t really for younger kids (Jamie freaked out a couple of times), but as a parent (of two girls) watching it, I found it to be very modern and relevant.  And it helped that there were a lot of original songs and scores, all very well done.  In fact Jamie left the theatre singing parts of Queen Elsa’s song, Let it GoIt’s a beautiful song, and very well sung too. 🙂

But more than that were some of the insights I took away from the movie.  From parents’ choices and motives, to allowing the child to find and develop their own talents and skills, all the way down to the bond that sisters share, a lot of it hit home for me.  Especially now that Sam is five.

They say that at 5, the child begins to want more independence from the parents and starts to form their own individuality.  Even before last week, I’ve begun to feel this already with Sam.  Hopefully in the last four years, I’ve helped her develop her own voice and her own opinion over things.  Sometimes I think I allowed it too much because I feel she contradicts me and opposes me at every turn.  I know this is normal and it’s to be encouraged but it is also a challenge.  Nonetheless I (we) constantly strive to give Sam the stimulants she needs for her body and mind to develop at a pace comfortable for her (and us).

Half the time, I still don’t know what I’m doing.  I’m guessing this is the correct thing to say and do, or I’m hoping that isn’t too much to expect.  After five years, I’m still navigating my way through it all.  And now I understand why the eldest children are the way we are:  we’re often our own parenting experiments.  It’s just the way it is.  So the bond and the explanations are important.

I’ve noticed Sam likes to conform.  I don’t know if it’s her personality or a lack of confidence because she hangs out with kids that are often older than her, but she will adapt and follow their lead, good or bad.  Maybe she’s also experimenting to see and test her footing, but I often encourage her to be and do what she thinks is best for her, even if it’s different from everyone else.  I just want her to be her own person.  And I can only hope that she understands I’m with her all the way through it.

But more than all of that, for me what’s most important is Sam’s relationship with Jamie.  And I can see, despite the daily bickering and whining or fighting over toys, the girls do love each other.  Sam is a great big sister.  She sets a wonderful example to Jamie and takes care of her and thinks of her often.  When we’re out and getting treats, she always asks for an extra one to give to her sister.  It’s very endearing; and you can tell Sam genuinely does it because she thinks of Jamie.  I always tell Sam to take care of Jamie, as much as Jamie should take care of her.  I believe that above all else, that should prevail.

I think:  if anything happened to me and to my husband (knock on wood!), or when we’re gone, the girls will really only have each other.  The bond that they share now will be the glue to hold them together in the years to come, throughout everything that they go through.  Sam seems to understand that too and keeps a watchful eye out for her sister.  She makes Jamie comfortable like no other person can.  It gives me a fuzzy warm feeling inside.  They bring tears to my eyes, watching them together.  If there’s anything that these last five years have taught me, it’s that children need their siblings just as much (or even more) than they do their parents.  And I’m lucky I have two girls who (I hope and pray!) will always be the best of friends forever. 🙂

My girls going off together.
My girls going off together.