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Something is Missing

08/20/2013

After Buzz went home and while Jason was gone to Europe, I went on a crazy reorganizing, cleaning, selling spree. While we had two energetic toddlers bouncing off of everything at our house, we decided that our vintage sofa was too precious for our home at this stage in our lives and foster parenting journey. Yes, the sofa we spent 80 hours last summer reupholstering. Gone! It now belongs to a young woman in Alabama where I’m sure it’s enjoying the single life and is no longer being jumped on by little pipsqueaks.

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We’ve decided to resort back to IKEA. When we got married in 2003, we were all about IKEA. We had a few second hand items and gradually replaced everything with the big box Scandinavian modern. In 2007 when we bought our 1955 ranch, we started replacing IKEA items with vintage items…usually could sell the IKEA furnishings for much more than the estate sale and thrift store treasures we were scrounging up. This may be a first step in the other direction for us… we’ve sold a vintage piece of furniture and replaced it with an IKEA piece of furniture.

For now we have a very empty living room but

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hopefully by the end of this week we’ll be picking up one of these:

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We’re still trying to sell these American By Martinsville tables. I thought I had a buyer but they backed out. If you or anyone you know is interested, please let me know. We’re happy to negotiate.

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First Chores

08/19/2013

Ali is at the age where she loves to do whatever I’m doing and she loves to help. “Ali help Mama!” I’m taking full advantage by encouraging her to do more jobs around the house. After her bath I have her take her clothes to her hamper and put her shoes away in her closet. If the playroom or her bedroom need cleaned up we usually do it together before nap or before bath time.  When I’m doing laundry she still sets me back more than helps BUT I’m finally finding ways she can help, handing me clothes out of the dryer to fold and sort, or pushing the wet clothes into the dryer for me. Other than that, she likes to unfold everything I fold and mix it all up.

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Lately she’s learning to do a job that Buzz had mastered right before he left – feeding Lucy in the morning. (Side note: Our dog has a crazy complicated feeder with five compartments that rotate on a timer. The spaced out meal times through out the day help her blood sugar stay up and she has less seizures and vomit — actually she rarely ever has either anymore.) Ali still needs help lifting the bag and scooping the food but she’s getting the hang of it. Here’s a recent picture of Lucy, the poor old cocker spaniel who doesn’t get photographed much anymore.

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What are some of the first chores you gave your kids? Any other suggestions for appropriate jobs for a 2 year old?


Phone Photo Friday

08/16/2013

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Most of my Phone Photo Friday pictures are from my Instagram feed. Follow me @mahlbrandt if you’d like!


Alianna and her “Big Girl Bed”

08/15/2013

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My last two posts on boundaries and solutions for bedtime wanderers were the groundwork for transitioning Ali to her “big girl bed.” With my hindsight glasses on from my experience with Buzz and with him back at home with his mom, I was ready to make the leap with my two-year-old daughter. She wasn’t climbing out of her crib, which is when most people make the change, but I was ready. I wanted to transition her before potty training and I wanted to make both transitions during a down-time as far as foster care goes (AKA no other kids in the house). I opted to do this even though Jason has been touring in Europe and I was on my own to deal with wandering, boundary breeching and whatever tantrums might ensue. It’s been 12 days so I feel confident calling it a great success and sharing what I did.

The morning after Buzz left, on Saturday August 3rd, Ali and I had breakfast and then I got out the tools and instructions for her crib. I showed her the illustration in the manual of the crib with sides and the crib with the side off like a day bed, ever after referred to as a big girl bed. She was game. It took me 15 minutes max. to take the crib side off and replace it with the side rail. Mostly she watched a show in the other room and came back just in time to “help” me tighten the last bolts. I moved it into place, made her bed and arranged her stuffed animals. She loved being able to climb right onto it all by herself. She immediately pretended to go to sleep. She posed for pictures. She was thrilled. Yay!

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We had some errands to run and on the way home Ali fell asleep in the van just a few minutes before we got home. I told my mom it was a gift from God! I plopped her right into the big girl bed and she stayed sleeping. I grabbed some pillows and blankets from another room to make a cushy landing on the floor in case she rolled out. I kept waiting and listening for a thud and crying but it never happened. I even snuck in to take some pictures. Two hours later I heard her calling me, “Mommy?” She was standing in the hallway looking confused.

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I was bracing for bedtime the first night so we started a little early. I explained how the OK to Wake clock works. She seemed interested but I knew without seeing it in action it would be hard for her to understand. For the first time, I was able to sit in her bed with her to read books and say prayers before bedtime. When I kissed her goodnight and left the room she immediately started crying and jumped up. (Side note: she had been loudly protesting bedtime for several weeks so this wasn’t a surprise.) She opened the door and came out into the hallway. I took her straight back to her bed and gave her simple, stern instructions. “It’s time for sleeping now. Lie down and go to sleep.”

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Three minutes later she came out into the hallway saying, “Mommy?” I took her back to her bed again. More sternly this time: “Stay in your bedroom. It’s time for sleeping. No crying. I’ll see you in the morning.” When I left this time I put the bells on her door handle so I’d hear if she opened the door again. She cried for less than a minute and then fell asleep.

One hour later I heard her crying and rushed in concerned that she had rolled out of bed. Nope, she was just sitting up. I said, “It’s time for sleeping.” She laid down and I covered her with a blanket and turned her music on. She started to cry again as I was heading for the door. “No crying,” I said. “It’s time for sleeping. I’ll see you in the morning.” She quickly fell asleep and didn’t make another peep until morning. She got up and came looking for me about 10 minutes before the Ok to Wake light was set to come on. She had never seen it work so I waited in her room with her until it changed so she could see the difference. She’s been very excited about “light! change!” ever since.

(Side note: I know I’m a mean mama for telling her to stop crying. But you know what? It works.)

The next day God blessed me with another easy transition from car seat to big girl bed for nap time. Bedtime went even smoother the next night. As the days have gone on we’ve had much less crying and fussing at bedtime. I love being able to sit in her bed and snuggle with her while I read books and say goodnight. The mornings have still been a little sketchy. Some days she’s been waking up pretty early and not able to wait until the light changes. She’s so sweet and cute when she cracks her door open and sticks her face out, saying “Mommy…how are you?” Nap times have been going very well, too. The light does not change when it’s OK to get up from nap time so I’ve explained that she needs to stay in her room until I come get her. She can call me or she can look at books quietly. I’m kind of amazed that it’s working, honestly! One day I went in and she had turned her Acoustic Lullabies CD on and she was looking at books. Just. Like. I. Suggested.

We’ve only had one little problem. Last Saturday morning shortly after I woke up I could hear her up shuffling around in her room. It was 7-something so I was just happy she was keeping herself busy while I scanned my Instagram feed. A few minutes later I heard paper ripping followed by “oh no!” and then more paper ripping. When I got to her room she was holding part of a page of a library book in her hand. Oops!

But overall, I think the transition has been going awesome! I’m sure there are a million variables with everyone as each family, kid, parenting strategy, bedtime routine, etc. is different. This is what we did and I’m thrilled. It was easy peasy. I took a few pictures of her room yesterday since I’ve moved things around a little bit. Now I’m pondering when to transition her to a twin bed. There is no rush unless we get placed with a baby and need the crib.

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Solutions for the Bedtime Wanderer

08/14/2013

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1. Consequences

2. Bells

3. OK to Wake clock

Consequences

Honestly, I can’t remember the first time Buzz wandered out of his room at night. I remember one night early on Jason and I were surprised when we turned off the TV and walked toward our bedroom at 11-something and found Buzz sitting on the toilet in the hall bathroom. He was mostly potty trained to it makes perfect sense but we were surprised that we hadn’t heard him or that he hadn’t called for help when he was done…he just sat there until we noticed him. We didn’t enact any consequences for leaving his room at first, only for leaving the house or for helping himself to things in the kitchen without checking with us first (this was to ensure he didn’t attempt the toaster or something else dangerous without supervision). But, that one time he did let himself out of the house we had several very serious discussions about why it’s not OK. A few times in the days to follow he let, or attempted to let, himself out of the house in the evening when we were home. That resulted in another serious conversation as well as 2 minutes in time out. Followed by another talk, because we were freaked out about what could have happened. That lesson was learned pretty quickly.

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I started waking up at the slightest sound every night, afraid that Buzz was out of his room and could get hurt. (Reminder: he was 2.5.) Obviously we couldn’t lock him into his room. He was much too tall (the height of a 4 year old) for a crib or a baby gate to be a consideration. I was looking for an inexpensive solution so this is what I came up with: the jingle bell shaker from Ali’s musical instrument set hanging on the door handle with a pipe cleaner. I used a wreath hanger to keep the bells out of reach during regular hours and after he was in bed at night I’d quietly slip the bells on to the handle. He was not able to open the door lever in the morning without the bells falling to the floor. I think this was a set back to his night time potty training but we all started sleeping better.

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OK to Wake Clock

The bells allowed me to hear and wake up when Buzz exited his room but it didn’t help me recover my morning time. (See my previous post on boundaries.) The time that the bells hit the floor was still varied a lot, and often related to when my alarm clock went off in the morning. His room was right next to ours and he seemed to hear me open my eyes in the morning. I needed a way for him to know when it was OK to come out of his room. I remembered a friend writing about an alarm clock that lights up at the time it’s OK for the child to come out of his room so I asked for advice. Susan used this stop light design with her boys and it worked great. She also suggested the OK to Wake! clock but said that she had better success with the stop light since young kids seem to understand the red means stop, green means go concept better. I ignored her advice and got the more visual attractive clock. I’m a designer…I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. After reading a gazillion reviews. I decided to go one better than the OK to Wake! and I got the Teach Me Time Talking Alarm Clock. It has the same features plus some others. I will say – the clock face glows a lot even when the light is technically off so the change to on is subtle. If the child’s bedroom is not dark enough it could easily be unnoticeable. I’m not sure if Buzz ever totally grasped the concept of this clock but it gave me something concrete to show him when I took him back to his room and said “You need to stay in your room until 8:00 when the light comes on.”

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This is part 2 of a 2 part prelude to my post about transitioning Ali to her big girl bed that’s coming later this week.


Boundaries

08/13/2013

I don’t think much about my personal space—the imaginary hulu hoop sized air around me—until someone invades it. I’m sure it’s happened to you, too. You meet someone for the first time and within minutes she’s talking with her face less than a foot from yours. You take a step back but she doesn’t get the hint and moves towards you again. Similarly, I had boundaries in my life that I wasn’t aware of until they had been crossed by Buzz, our recent foster son. The two major ones were related to sleep/wake times. These are personal and different for every person, but I hope to encourage you if you have boundaries you’ve allowed other to cross – reclaim your personal space!

First it was at bedtime. Buzz would get very emotional and needy (AKA stalling…) at bedtime. In order to help ease his transition, I would put Ali to bed first and rush because he was a distraction to her. She would get upset but I knew she’d recover and go to sleep on her own. I’d end up reading him a couple more books in his room, saying night time prayers, letting him watch videos his mom sent saying goodnight, put on music and then, by his request “stay,” I’d set at the foot of his bed until he fell asleep. After a while of this, Jason challenged why I was doing this. It was dragging out his bedtime longer and later and eating up my very limited time at the end of the day for me (doing dishes, tidying up, writing blog posts, showering, laundry, spending time with Jason, paying bills, etc.). I started reducing the time I would sit in his room rather than waiting for him to fall asleep. 10  minutes. 5 minutes. I stuck at 5 minutes for a while and Jason challenged me again – “LIke a bandaid, ” he said, quoting Seinfeld, “Right off!” The first night that I kissed him goodnight and left his room without answering his plea to “stay!” he cried for a minute, then Jason went in and told him to stop and go to sleep. He cried for about 30 seconds more and then went to sleep. That was the end of that! I got my nights back. I also realized that it was unfair to Ali to be rushed to bed and to lose that one-on-one time at the end of the day. At that point I started alternating. One night I would read books to both kids in Buzz’s room, tuck him in and then go with Ali into her room to tuck her in. The next night I would read books to both kids in Ali’s room, tuck her in and then go with Buzz into his room to tuck him in. They both really seemed to like and understand this system and would always remember which night it was for books in which room.

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The second area of boundary crossing was in the mornings. Parenting Buzz was our first experience with a kid who sleeps in a bed rather than a crib. That was a level of freedom around the house that required us to set boundaries for his safety. We were totally learning as we went. The first time he let himself out of the house during nap time was a huge eye opener. After some very serious talks and consequences, we didn’t have any repeat incidents, though we had to remind him several times (during waking hours) not to let himself out of the house without permission. He’s a smart kid but also very resourceful. The problem with mornings was that his wake times were all over the place. 5:30 one day. 7:00 another day. I’d have to wake him up at 8:30 another day. My pre-Buzz morning routine was to wake (gradually…)  at 6:30, spend time with God and a cup of tea from 7-7:30, take care of the dog and get ready for work from 7:30-8:30. Ali would get up around 8:30 too. Buzz’s random wake up times hijacked my mornings.  I lost my easing into the day, my alone time, my quiet time with God, my chance to take Lucy for a walk, my time to shower and get ready uninterrupted. (Side note: I’m very intentional about being the first one up so I can prepare for my day and prepare to receive my family in the morning.) It took me two months to realize that I didn’t have to give up my mornings. I was my choice. I am the parent. I could set a boundary line around this sacred time and enforce it. We got a special clock for Buzz’s room that lights up when it’s ok to come out of the bedroom. It took him a while to get the hang of it but it restored my mornings for the most part. I’d often have to take him back to his room, where he’d pout and fuss but eventually he would look at books or pick out his clothes for the day and wait until the clock lit up (at 8 am, if you’re curious).

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There were lots of other areas where boundaries were crossed and then more clearly established (just as with parenting any child) but these two areas were key to my sanity and my relationship with the rest of my family during the 3 months that Buzz was with us. They also gave me some wisdom and experience before we gave Ali the same freedom.

This is part 1 of a 2 part prelude to my post about transitioning Ali to her big girl bed that’s coming later this week.


Drexel Declaration Hutch

08/12/2013

I’ve been plowing through my to do list, including selling off a bunch of stuff to clear out the garage. We have this one big item left that needs a new home. Any local readers interested? It’s the top half of a china cabinet hutch, part of the Declaration series by Drexel. It’s big and heavy. We haven’t done anything to clean it up or refinish it. I have it marked down to $20 on craigslist and I still can’t get anyone to buy it. Dimensions: 52″ wide, 55″ tall, 13″ deep. It comes with shelves.

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Pretty soon it’s going to be sitting by the curb for free…