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.

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?

Scenes from a Saturday

It’s Saturday morning, and I am on my work laptop. The last two days I have been at the office, working hard as one of my staff is leaving, and while I am eager to focus on family again, there are a few nagging items I can’t get out of my mind. I send off a few emails, interrupted here and there by my toddler who is hungry for breakfast.

I get my daughter dressed in her bear suit so we can run some errands. We head outside in the late morning, her bundled in her stroller and me wondering how navigating the snowy sidewalks will be today. I am relieved and happy to be done with work and spending time with my daughter, experiencing our weekly reconnection day after my time away. I am getting ready for a party and I need to stop at the grocery store and the bakery.

I have all 4 stove tops going – pancakes for breakfast, bacon, broccoli, and pasta for the mac and cheese I will bring to the party. My daughter is alternately playing on her own and clinging to my leg as I work. My husband is sleeping after a late night out with friends. I peek in on him to tell him breakfast will be ready soon and ask him to help out.

Our daughter is dressed and ready to go and I have packed up the stroller with the cake and mac and cheese. The party has already started and we are not yet out the door. My husband is moving slowly, his body showing how drained he feels.

“Do you have to go?” he asks. We embrace and I feel him curl into me, how genuine his pleading for me to join him in staying in our nest, ignoring the world and its demands together.

I had wanted for him to accompany us to the party, but I decide not to push, instead asking if he still wants to go out after. We had arranged a babysitter and were planning on a date, but I could tell he was in the mood to stay in. “I don’t really want to do anything at all,” he says, confirming my suspicions. I understand all too well how he is feeling – the sense that any effort at all is too much, that nothing could be rewarding enough to make it worth it. It’s not true, of course. But I know how true it can feel, when you’re there, in that place.

I pause. “Let’s at least get dinner, just the two of us,” I say. “We can always come home afterwards.”

He agrees.

As I push the stroller around the building and roll it up the stairs, careful not to wake my sleeping toddler, I hear the buzz of the party inside the building. The voices of adults mingle with the squeals and cries of children. I open the door and enter the space, looking around at the gathered families. Here are my daughter’s best friends, my best mom friends (though the “mom” qualifier is no longer needed), and their spouses, all gathered together to mark the occasion of our children’s first birthdays. It is a room filled with love and support, I know, and yet as I enter with my sleeping child I can’t help but feel a bit alone.

I roll the stroller with my daughter to a spot in the back, where she is somewhat removed from the din but we can see when she wakes. With a sigh, I note that I am 45 minutes late for a 2 hour party. After getting settled, I snap a picture of my sleeping daughter, and send it to my husband.

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“So far, she is sleeping through the party. Your daughter, much? ;)”

Once she wakes up, she is a joy. We have some food and talk with our friends. Then we all get together for a group photo of the moms and babies. As we laugh and smile and look at any of the many cameras in the hands of the many dads, I know that this will be a picture I will cherish – we will capture a moment, but it will call to mind so many more, of emails and texts and afternoons together in the park or indoors, of home cooked scones and pot luck dinners, of watching our children make their first friends, with each other.

During the group shot with the fathers, a few of us step out of the frame. My daughter and I run back and forth in the large space, enjoying the music.

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Someone who generously watched my daughter in addition to their own just the day before returns a sippy cup that I had left behind at their house. My daughter wants to drink from it, and I let her carry it, then lose track of it again in the sea of children’s things that is our celebration of ten 1 year olds and their moms and dads.

We are cleaning up, putting away furniture and sweeping the floor. The babysitter has picked up my daughter and is on her way to our apartment. I have messaged my husband, but heard nothing. I guess that he has fallen asleep and will wake when the babysitter arrives. I make the most of the time, chatting with the friends who remain and helping out. A boy, the older sibling of one of my daughter’s friends, brings the sippy cup to the mom I am standing next to. She tells me he thought it was hers because her daughter was drinking from it too.

“No worries,” I say as I put the bright pink and yellow cup in the pocket of my oversized coat, thankful at this moment for the coat and its large pockets. The coat is too big and not very flattering. I wore it last winter when I was in my third trimester, and I continue to wear it now so that I can close it around my daughter and I when she is in the wrap. It has dried finger paint on the hem from my encounters with not-quite-dry toddler art, and crumbs and specks of food from her snacks in the wrap. It is, as my boss put it, a “mom coat.” I probably should get a nice fitted coat for myself, but I just couldn’t bring myself to invest the money and time in the hunt for the right winter coat this year. I am not focused on that part of me. I am a mom first, and everything else after. It’s how I want it to be.

My pace quickens as I see my husband walking towards me on the street. I feel weird, like a train off the tracks, as I walk towards him without our daughter in sight. I can count on one hand the number of times we’ve gone out without our daughter in the 14 months since she was born. As the two of us draw closer, I am giddy with happy memories – a decade of dinners for two, conversations both deep and light, games and trips and weekends in.

We embrace excitedly, sharing a big hug and a kiss, even though we’d just seen each other a few hours earlier. I lean into him as we walk, an extra skip in my step. As we hold hands and chat about where to go for dinner, I am relieved to hear more energy in his voice and feel more strength in his walk.

We choose to eat at Le Cheile, where we had our first dinner out as a new family of 3 a little over a year earlier and where we have been since many times, instead of Saggio, the fancy but cramped Italian restaurant where we ate our last dinner out as a childless couple. We are creatures of habit and comfort, and they have delicious mozzarella sticks.

I sit on a bench in the park, my legs awkwardly stretched in front of me on the deep blanket of snow. My husband sits across from me, helping me light the joint I just rolled as we talk about family size and when to have another child. I am enjoying myself, and I tell him so. It feels nice to be able to focus on each other and not worry about what our daughter is up to.

My throat feels dry, and I think a drink would be great. Then I interrupt our conversation – “I’m about to have a very mom moment. Are you ready for this?” I ask as I reach into my pocket and pull out the sippy cup. “Want some water?” I ask, thinking of all the people involved in making this drink turn up in my pocket on this particular day.

I smile, feeling immense love as I talk with my husband.

What a great day.

Learning to walk

My daughter turned 11 months old this week. On her 11 month birthday, she took her first tentative steps, and then yesterday she walked all the way across the room. It was so exciting to watch!

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She had been very stable at standing for several weeks, and had even started rising and sitting without holding onto anything. She loved to walk holding our hands, but if she wanted to get across the room she would sit and crawl.

I felt that she had the strength and balance needed to walk, and all she was missing was the confidence. Her Dad agreed that she was scared to try. So we decided to encourage her to walk with just one of our hands. Whenever we did this, she would be upset at first, reaching for the other hand so she could speed up, but we encouraged her to try it. For a day or two, she did most of her walking this way, more slowly and tentatively than when she had two helping hands.

Then, on her 11 month birthday, while
I was sitting on the floor behind her, her standing with my arms nearby, her Daddy walked into the room and she took a couple of steps towards him! Then she grabbed my hands and we all cheered and encouraged her. She did the same thing again a few times that evening.

The next day, with encouragement she took a few more steps throughout the day. By the evening she was able to take about 10 steps, toddling across the room! She seems less scared to try now, though crawling is still her preferred method. This morning when I was getting ready for work I asked her to take a few steps to show her new skill to the nanny, and she walked towards me with a little more confidence.

I’m so proud of her for giving walking on her own a try even though she was hesitant. I can’t wait for the next chance to encourage her to persevere, despite her fears!
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8.5 month snapshot

My daughter is about 8 and a half months old. I rarely have time to really sit and write, but I’m going to try to save a bit of memory here.

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I’m writing now on my way to work. I am still going to work twice a week, on Thursdays and Fridays. It’s getting very hard to work at home. I try to do 3 hours on Monday and 3 hours on Wednesday.

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My daughter doesn’t nap much. I hear from other moms about these 2 hour naps or a 45 minutes nap being short and it sounds like some other world. I am not upset about it, it is what it is. I try to extend her naps sometimes… Nurse or rock or sing or stroll, hoping she’ll go back to sleep. But it’s just not her. Once she’s up, she thinks things are too interesting to miss. I noticed this about her several months ago and it hasn’t changed. Another mom that watched her for an afternoon confessed that she thought with her practice and success with her own daughter that surely she’d be able to extend my daughter’s nap when she was up after 20 minutes, and was surprised to learn she was wrong.

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I think long naps just aren’t in my daughter’s nature right now and that’s ok. But it does mean those 3 hours of work I try to do at home must be with her mostly awake. And now she gets into things so easily. She’s a pro at crawling and she pulls up to standing. Sometimes she even let’s go with one or both hands. She takes some tumbles most days but jumps right back into trying after a brief cuddle and reassurance. She is fearless! Her propensity to explore her physical skills is much more like me than her father.

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One day last week she stood on her own. It was a very wide stance. We were on the grass where there was a slight Hill, she was pushing up and the next thing I knew nothing was on the ground but her feet. I sort of stared at her dumbfounded and proud.

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As we approach the marker of her time outside the womb equalling her time in it, I’ve also been reflecting on my own changes over this time. I gained around 45 pounds with the pregnancy. I was nervous about if I would return to my former shape, but also so happy to be a mom that I felt it would be worth it even if not, so I wasn’t stressing. I also felt that modelling healthy behavior was important. And with breastfeeding and the activity involved in caring for an infant in NYC, the pounds melted off, slowly but surely. I was able to fit into my pre-pregnancy jeans at about 7 months post-partum, and now I even need a belt for those. It’s so remarkable what the female body can do!

I’ve never been so happy for so long. I just adore this little girl, being a mom, watching my husband light up to see our daughter and hearing her giggle as they play together.

Life is beautiful.

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