Pregnancy with a toddler in the summer

… Kind of sucks. Growing a human is beautiful and I can’t wait to meet this little boy, but oh my goodness this is so much harder than the first time. 

I’m 34 weeks pregnant and we’ve been going through a heat wave here in NYC, with lots of hot, humid days with a heat index above 105° F. I’ve never been a summer person, preferring cool weather or even a rainy or snowy day to the clear skies with the burning sun. 

So this summer, with the heat wave, the third trimester, and the challenges of parenting a toddler… I’ve felt a bit like I’m melting to pieces. Many times it’s all I can do to get through the hour or the day. Tears seem to fall more easily. I go to sleep when my daughter does most nights, spending 10 hours in bed, and often still want a nap. 

I’m getting better at managing, though. I’ve been frank with my husband about the support I need, lowered my expectations of myself, set an earlier start to my leave (less than 3 weeks to go!), built more rest and refreshment time into my days, and also spoke with my doctors and increased my anti-depressants. All of this is helping, and I’m feeling more stable and ready and in control. We’ve made it to mid-August and there’s just a little summer left. 

One day soon, I will walk outside into a cool fall breeze, holding my new baby and watching my toddler and husband play, and it will be beautiful. 

Our highly sensitive toddler

With 2.5 years of parenting our daughter under our belts, my husband and I have come to believe that we have a wonderfully aware and sensitive child. I wrote about this as one of the traits we saw back at 22 months. 

As she’s blossomed further into toddlerhood and has even begun to seem more child-like, this has become even more clear. Earlier this year we learned of the term “highly sensitive child”, and it’s provided a useful construct for understanding and talking about the special qualities our daughter possesses. 

What is a highly sensitive child? 

Recognizing our daughter is a highly sensitive child means that we believe our daughter, like 15-20% of the population, has a heightened physiological response to certain stimuli. 

Highly sensitive children tend to be creative, intuitive, and empathetic in addition to being introspective and easily overwhelmed by such sensory experiences as sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and feelings. 

If you are wondering whether your own child might be highly sensitive, Dr. Elaine Aron, the foremost researcher and author into high sensitivity, offers a tool here

Yesterday I listened to an episode of Susan Cain’s podcast, Quiet, which included a great description. By the way, if you have an introverted child, I highly recommend her podcast, a 9 part series on parenting introverts.

In the 9th episode, she interviewed a researcher of highly sensitive children who described them as Orchid children. An Orchid child is much more sensitive to their environment than the average child. In contrast to a Dandelion child, who will grow similarly well in all sorts of environments, an Orchid child’s outcomes will depend more heavily on the environment in which they grow up.

In a tough environment, an Orchid child will struggle and wilt. They may be seen as weak and may not come to utilize and value their strengths. But in a nurturing and supportive environment, they will flourish, outperforming their peers in areas like creativity, innovation, and understanding. If you have a highly sensitive child, the most valuable thing you can do is to value and help them capitalize on their unique traits. 

Why do we think we have a highly sensitive toddler? 

Highly sensitive children are not exactly alike, but I thought it might be helpful to share what we see in our daughter that has helped us to identify that the community and parenting resources for parents of highly sensitive children are particularly helpful for us. 

She is upset by other children’s crying

One of the earliest signs that we saw in our daughter was her high responsiveness to other children’s emotions. This came out most strongly when she would hear other kids, usually babies, crying. It would distress her, sometimes leading her to cry too. As she began to understand language better, it seemed to help when we would acknowledge that there was an upset baby or child and reassure her that someone was caring for them and helping them to feel better.

More recently, our daughter started in a daycare where she is in group care for the first time. There are several other babies and toddlers there, and when she describes her day to us she often talks about the crying. We’ve talked with the daycare staff and know that there’s not an unusual amount of crying there, but the crying of children at daycare ranks high on her awareness of what happens in her days there. 

She is bothered and scared by loud noises

“Too loud” is one of her most frequent phrases. From the sounds that are nuisances to most of us, like construction work or a loud motorcycle, to the more benign, like the buzzing of the machines that keeps a bouncy house inflated, loud noises make her cover her ears and she frequently stops what she’s doing and needs reassurance. It’s too the point where she is scared to see new machines even when they are off. She recently cried and covered her ears when we got a new window a/C and when she found my breast pump in a box of baby stuff. Even though the machines were off, both situations took some time and soothing to get through. 

She’s always been highly responsive to music

Her first clearly intentional arm movements, at under 2 months old, were along to the beat as a friend held her and sang a rhythmic song. As a baby she would be calmed by soothing music, and we soon noticed that she would reflect the mood of the music, even getting sad or scared when the music suggested it. As a toddler, we’ve had many a time where we are walking down the street and a car or boom box goes by playing loud music and she dances and moves to the beat. 

She is very focused and loves quiet play like puzzles, Legos, and drawing

As a baby, other kids would crawl to her and check her out, and she’d be more absorbed in the toy she was looking at. As a young toddler, she would happily play on her own more than other kids her age, engaging with her stacking rings, blocks, or board puzzles. Nowadays, she does 24 piece jigsaw puzzles (with some help) and can even stay engaged enough to do 3 or 4 of these in a row. 

And here are a few more signs:

  • She doesn’t like tags on her clothes or loveys
  • Lately, she has lots of trouble with her shoes being uncomfortable
  • She wants to change immediately when her clothes get wet
  • It’s always a struggle to wash her hair because she doesn’t like the feeling of water dripping down her face

Toddler Parenting

Recently, some of my mom friends and I were discussing how difficult it is to live with a little human who is developed enough to have strong desires and emotions but hasn’t yet developed the ability to manage or even understand all these big feelings…in other words, how hard it is to parent a toddler.

Toddlers often let out their emotions no matter where they are. Here, my daughter sings for the whole subway car.

As our kids are nearing 2.5 years old, this has become a more frequent topic of conversation amongst my mom friends. 

While I’m glad to talk it through with them, I also feel like it’s a year overdue. A year ago, I remember feeling loneliness and even despair as I struggled with how to respond to my daughter’s emotional and expressive behavior (ie, tantrums). At the time, it seemed to me that my mommy peers were more relieved to be past the intensity of the baby stage than worried about the new responsibilities of toddler parenting. I think my feelings at the time were compounded by the fact that I had just returned to full time work. 

Since I’ve felt challenged by my daughter’s toddlerness for over a year, I wanted to share some of what I’ve learned and how I’ve coped along the way. 

In the past year, I’ve grown significantly more confident in my approach to “discipline” over this period.  I try to remember I’m always learning as a parent too. Each new challenge is a chance to hone your parenting technique, practice your patience, and grow your compassion; and each phase passes.

It does get better, and now I joke that instead of the terrible twos my daughter had the terrible 1.5 to 2.5, though I know it’s not really over yet.

Here’s how we approach it (cliff notes of the whole brain child!):

Connect and Redirect
I know that my daughter will continue to have emotional outbursts, but I also know the quickest way through them for us is to connect first, then redirect – we try to validate her feelings, calmly tell her why she still isn’t going to get her way right then, and then offer her some acceptable options so that she can feel she has some control.

Be Consistent
Sometimes, the emotional storm is over in under a minute, and other times it may take several minutes or last for much longer, but we stay firm and consistent with what we had said… reminding ourselves that giving in reinforces the behavior because random rewards are the strongest behavior reinforcement. We use this approach with physical restraint if it’s a safety issue, going through the same steps verbally while holding her, and using language and tone to convey empathy and support. 

For things like getting out of the house to get her to school and us to work, we try pretty hard to give her choices, but ultimately will talk her through it while putting her in the stroller or changing her clothes if needed. Routine helps reduce the tension over this, too. 

I can’t say we’ve got this “getting out of the house” thing down too well yet, though. We’re still often late for things. 

Do What Works For Your Family
Sometimes other parents I talk to stress over their children’s routines or the ways that their parenting practices aren’t living up to what they expected of themselves. To this, I suggest: don’t be afraid to pick your battles and do what works! 

An example for us is how we manage sleep. Our toddler’s sleep habits lately have led to some no nap days and too many late nights. She sleeps great with people other than Mama and Dada. With us, she will usually fall asleep in the stroller (I think because it’s the only place where she’s restrained and can’t just get up on her own), so that’s been my go to for weekend naps. We may try to change this when the time seems right, but right now, this works for us. So that’s what we do. 

Remember Brains are Always Growing and Changing
Truly, it’s not easy. I used to worry a lot more about how well my parenting choices were setting my daughter up for a successful life, but I’ve come to believe that with our kids only 2, we have lots of time to iterate and refine and undo whatever habits our kids have. Their brains are still sooooooooo young, and they have just barely begun to build the capacity for reason. The real reason workhorse of the brain, the prefrontal lobe, doesn’t begin developing until 4 and isn’t done maturing until about 25. Even after 25, science has discovered that our brains continue to grow new neurons and change throughout our whole lives.

Therefore I say, no need to burden ourselves with immense pressure of getting it right, right now. 

A strong beginning is great, but even more important is the daily involvement, guidance, and support that we will give our children throughout their childhood, adolescence, and beyond.

Career Confusion and the Paradox of Choice

This month marks one year since I took a new job, returning to full time work after a year of part time while my daughter was a baby. My daughter is 28 months old now, and I am halfway through pregnancy with my son.

This past year has been one of the toughest years for my professional life. I’d say it’s rivaled only by the quarter-life crisis years that I experienced in my mid 20s. I’m 32 now, so those pains have faded somewhat, though I’ve carried their memory as a grounding that helps me see the good in the roles I’ve had since then.

That difficult professional time resolved when I moved from chemical engineering to software product management. I’d been spanning both areas for a few years while I worked a day job in environmental remediation and an all-the-other-time job with my husband on our startup, but at the start of 2011, at 27, I made the switch to software for my day job. I was relieved that I had found the right career track for me, one which used my analytical skill and passion for technology and had abundant career options in NYC.

While there have been challenges since then for sure, I can’t remember a period of such sustained professional stress as I’ve had since I took my current job.

So many nights I’ve been so preoccupied and worried about work that I had insomnia. In the fall I had to up my therapy from biweekly to weekly, a frequency I hadn’t needed for a few years. I’ve cried at the office or over work more times than I can count.

And that’s all just from my feelings about this job, not even going into how I feel about working full time while my daughter is under school age (not that the two emotional drivers can be fully separated).

I’m extremely fortunate to be in a career that has more jobs than qualified candidates, but one consequence of this is that I am aware that I have choices and don’t have to be where I am if it’s not the right fit for me. I tested the waters, speaking to recruiters and interviewing at another company a few months back. Already pregnant and feeling I didn’t have enough time with my daughter, I decided to test if I could find a new job while still positioning myself for the work-life balance I sought.

I came close to an offer in a role that was exciting and felt like a sweet spot for me in terms of the product and company culture, but they were only willing to go as far as one day working from home. Working from home with a toddler is either not caring for the toddler or not working. So when my boss finally agreed to my request for a 4 day work week (at 80% pay), I decided to stay at my company, at least for now.

At first that brought renewed peace and confidence that I was at the right place for my values at this point in my life. But the following months saw a lot of change in my role, with a new boss taking over a large portion of my responsibilities, and a lot of stress with the remaining ones. Luckily my old and new boss are really open to finding me a spot that better matches my schedule, strengths, and desires.

So I’ve been soul searching again, assessing what is stressing me out about this job.

I’ve learned a lot this past year, and I believe I’m stronger professionally from these experiences. I’ve learned how a different company works, operationally and culturally, and tried my skills in a new pool of office politics, which were things I sought. But I feel a lot of my distress comes from not liking what I’ve found. I’m plagued by the thought that no matter what the role, this company isn’t the right fit for me.

The amount of discontent I have and the amount I see around me in the peers I admire even has me questioning whether product management is the right discipline for me as I advance in my career. I suspect that it’s not the discipline but the flavor of it that seems expected here that I’m unhappy with. I want to be somewhere where my core motivators of creating great user experiences and working with exciting technology don’t feel like they’re so often compromised.

Perhaps I could find a better fit on a different team here. Is it the role or the company itself that I need to get away from?

And then there’s the question of how much I can stand being away from my daughter and our new son after maternity leave, which should be the last 3 months of this year. Last time I had a really tough time even being away 2 days per week when my daughter was only 3 months old. I think from around 6 months to 16 months I was very happy with the 20 hours per week, 2 days in the office work-life balance. But if I can’t get my hours reduced that much, I might rather stay home full time than be away from home more days than I am there. It would be tough on our finances but I would be willing to take on the things needed to make it work, and my husband says he would support that. I suspect he might even be grateful for it, except for the lack of paycheck.

There are so many options, which I’m grateful for. But with it there are so many questions. And I feel like I’m in some sort of limbo, where I’m in a confusingly ambiguous role and just biding my time until my son is born. I tell myself how fortunate I am to have these options, but it’s tough to be happy when I’m feeling emotionally triggered in meetings, conversations, and emails from my coworkers day in and day out. I’m so thankful that my daughter and husband are there to keep me grounded at the end of each day. I only hope that I’ll be able to make the right career choices for me, and that I can be present for them and enjoy this time together until our family grows.

Of all the things I haven’t written

I haven’t written much this past year. I wrote a post nearly a year ago about returning to full time work (from the part time schedule I’d had since my daughter was born), and I think the strain the full time work has put on me is a large part of why I haven’t written much. It’s not only more time away from my daughter, but it’s also just a stressful job – without a doubt the hardest job I’ve ever had!

When I’m not working, I want to be with my daughter or vegging out or out with my husband. I just haven’t had the mental energy to write, which saddens me because I value writing as an outlet and a way to stay connected with others online. And there are things I could have written about, like how hard I find parenting a toddler to be, the horrible night terrors my daughter had, the 3 month long menstrual cycle I had after having my IUI removed, how that ended in the briefest of pregnancies that ended during a major product launch at said stressful job, or how I got to starting a 4 day/week schedule last week.

But of all the updates I could share, I’ve been nagged by not having written yet about one thing in particular – we have a baby boy due in late September!

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This pregnancy has been more exhausting and trying than the first was, but it’s hard for me to say if that’s the pregnancy or the fact that I’ve already got a toddler who demands near constant attention from me. Now that I’m 18 weeks along, the exhaustion, emotion, and nausea of the first trimester have somewhat subsided and I feel the baby move sometimes, so I’m feeling more excited.

Our daughter has been pretty amazing with the news so far. Our nanny is pregnant too, due in July, so there’s a lot of pregnancy around her. She loves babies, whether real or pretend. She likes to care for them and tickle them and talk about them. She’ll be 2 years and 9 months when her brother is born, so we expect sharing the attention will still be tough on her, but she’s so into babies and learning about them that we think that will help a lot.

I can’t wait for our family to grow and to share some stories from the trenches as we raise 2 little ones in NYC!

Personality developing

I wrote the following a few months ago, but wanted to add pictures before posting and didn’t get around to it until now.

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about how at 22 months, our daughter’s personality and traits are starting to really show. We are really getting to see just WHO our little darling is! It’s really incredible to watch her develop. Here’s a bit about who she seems to be these days.

We think she’s playful, because she’s often silly and likes to do things just to make us laugh. She asks for tickles (“tick-e-tick-e-tick-e”) nearly every day.
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We think she’s athletic, because she loves to run and climb. These days she will climb the curved ladder at the park that is twice as tall as her all by herself, and we taught her to do a forward roll. We can’t wait to take her to the rink to skate and to gymnastics classes!
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We think she’s adventurous, because she’s always run at the ladders and the pool with abandon. This is exciting to watch but makes me nervous, too!

We think she’s strong-willed, because when she wants something, it’s hard to distract her or convince her to let it go. She can get really upset about being told no.

We think she’s musical, because she starts dancing or nodding her head every time she hears music, even if it’s just a brief moment of a car passing by on the street.
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We think she’s a bit shy, because she often takes a while to warm up to people and likes to hide in me.

We think she may be analytical, because she really likes to fit things together and play with blocks and puzzles. She also responds well to explanations and nods as if to say “oh, right, I see”.
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We think she’s sensitive, because she is bothered when other kids or babies are crying or upset. She also breaks into tears when told she’s hurt someone and sometimes when reprimanded, even gently.
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How do you describe your kids? Are there things you thought about their personality as a toddler that no longer seem true?

Moving from a roach infested apartment

It was a crazy summer. It was equal parts wonderful and really, really hard. The hardest part was moving out of our roach infested apartment. With my anxiety levels charged up from the growing infestation, just weeks into my new job and return to full time work, I planned our move. We had a month of overlap at both apartments, which we needed so that we could be careful and intentional all along the way.

We were very scared of bringing the roaches with us, so we painstakingly inspected and cleaned everything before packing it in big blue moving bins. Husband and I agreed that even though we had stretched our budget to its limit (past it really – borrowing from a very wonderful person just to be able to pay the security deposit and first month’s rent), it would be better to leave behind anything that we couldn’t be absolutely sure carried no bugs or their eggs. Our motto was “When in doubt, throw it out.” We really wanted to be sure that we never had to go through this again.

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My mom came to help us pack, and I was so thankful for her help, especially with the kitchen, which was the worst part. I think we must have seen hundreds of roaches both dead and alive while packing the kitchen alone. Many would scurry away when we opened a cabinet drawer, or we’d find them crawling around in nesting bowls. It had gotten so bad that we didn’t even have to shed light on a dark area – we’d regularly see them crawling on cabinets, walls, and counters, even in the daytime. So gross. With the distance that comes from being out of that place, I can now clearly see how BAD it was.

The moving process took longer than I’d hoped. We had both the old and new apartments for a whole month – because I was eager to get out of there and because the move was extra intense with the eradication work. As we approached the final weekend of our overlap month, I looked forward to closing the book on the infested apartment for good.

Then the bargain movers I’d originally hired for the last Saturday of our overlap month told us they were delayed for 4 hours before finally telling us they weren’t coming – “you cancel” the foreman texted me. We sure as hell did not! So I spent the next morning calling movers until I found one who could come the next day, for about 3x the price.

My husband and I took the day off from work and went back to the old apartment one last time. We did a final assessment of which furniture was safe to bring. After I sprayed clorox on a joint in a wooden table only to see a handful of baby roaches come crawling out, we decided to cut our plans even further, bringing almost nothing.

The movers were running late and it was near our daughter’s bedtime, so I took her while Husband oversaw the movers. I went back to the building later to bring him something and snapped the below pictures of all of our furniture in the trash.
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In the end we brought the bins, the bed and metal frame, my daughter’s bed, the nursing glider, a glass and metal desk, two folding chairs, a desk chair, a metal baker’s rack, and a still boxed shelving unit extension from Ikea. That’s it! No dressers, no tables, no bookshelves. There was almost nowhere to unpack our stuff to, and nowhere comfortable to eat. But it was worth it, to get out of the old place.

Our new apartment is big, sunny, and mostly bug free. A few days after the movers brought our stuff, I saw 3 or 4 cockroaches around the apartment. I was so scared that we had brought them with, but I felt that it would be just more than I could handle, and I just shut down my emotions on it, imagining it was someone else and not me. We put out bait traps and sealed the gaps around the doors and hoped for the best.

I’m happy to say we haven’t seen many in the weeks since. I hadn’t seen any until this morning when I found a dead one in the sink. Husband says he saw one in the kitchen too. But I believe this will be ok. The apartment is caulked and sealed so there is no good place for them to nest, and they will not survive.

We are slowly furnishing the apartment. I’d say we are being responsible by only buying what we can pay cash for, but the truth is we maxed out all of our credit just to make the move happen, so we have no choice. We bought a nice new convert-a-couch and a cheap folding table that we fancy up with a table cloth. I put some basic metal shelving in the closets so that we had a place to unpack our hobby supplies, which take a whole closet. We have less than 10 bins left to unpack out of the original 45. We are looking at dressers and toy storage next. In the meantime, we use the other bins for surfaces and toy and clothes storage.

Despite the incomplete furnishings and decorations, I am so happy about our new home. My anxiety levels dropped within a week or two of closing the chapter on the old place. I am so happy that I can comfortably use our kitchen without fear of what I’ll encounter every time time I move something. It’s changed my habits and routines – I can now relax at home with my family in a way I hadn’t at the old place in months. I feel relieved and comforted to be home and I love spending time there with my husband and daughter. It was all worth it.

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