Category Archives: childrens books

Happiness Is a Sleeping Baby

The newest baby book for parents

Funny that I was already working on a post on the topic of baby sleep habits when the book “Go the F— To Sleep” became the No. 1 bestseller on Amazon.com yesterday. It’s essentially an R-rated parody of a children’s book that no doubt is hilarious to both those parents who have a problem and those parents who don’t admit that they have a problem when it comes to getting their kids to sleep. But really, it’s no coincidence. Among parents with young children, sleep is the topic du jour every jour.

Most of the time the topic comes because there’s something about their babies’ sleep habits that mommies (and daddies) are struggling with. The issues are all over the board–baby won’t sleep in the crib, baby wakes up super early, baby only falls asleep in mom’s arms or in bed with mom and dad, baby doesn’t nap, baby doesn’t sleep through the night, and on and on. Most of the time during these conversations I hear other mommies commiserating; rarely do you hear mommies talking about what’s working when it comes to sleeping babies.

It could be that the issue of sleep just gets totally marginalized in mommies’ brains once their wee ones start sleeping through the night; it’s like if it’s not a 4 am-problem, it doesn’t get bandwidth. (I totally get that.) Or it could be that mommies who are seeing some degree or another of sleep success are afraid to sound like either braggards or know-it-alls, if they talk about it. (I get this, too.)

The latter is in fact a little bit my fear in writing this post, but the possibility that something I write could help any one of my mommy friends currently struggling with a monster at bedtime is enough to take me out on this limb.

I lucked out and my wee one started sleeping through the night at seven weeks. He did it on his own (or so I thought at first), so for awhile I just enjoyed it. But I couldn’t stop wondering what what made him suddenly do it. I also wanted to be sure I didn’t do anything going forward that would mess it up. Sleep is good.

A number of parents I know swear by Dr. Marc Weissbluth’s Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. In the interest of full disclosures, I’ve never read the book. My go-to guru on baby sleep habits was an old friend, Meg Casano, who had in the many years since we used to tear up the playground together gone on to become a nurse and then an infant sleep consultant with Baby Sleep Science. (You may remember that I’ve written about Meg before, when she launched a blog to illustrate successful sleep training techniques.) But I’m guessing, given that my friend completed a lot of her training and research with a woman who got her start with Dr. Weissbluth, that her sleep philosophy is of the same vein as Weissbluth’s.

There has been a lot of back and forth with Meg over the months to get me to the point where I understand what baby needs and can make adjustments as necessary. I don’t want to get bogged down in every detail, so I’m going to boil it all down to the five things I’ve learned about babies and sleep that have not only helped me ensure baby is getting healthy doses of Zzzzs but also allowed me gain a few hours of my life back every day. Both are priceless.

  1. Know the basics. I’m not someone who can really follow anything to the letter–my schedule is too erratic–so, just having someone give me a few rules of thumb to think about while I’m managing the rest of the chaos was really helpful.The big one I think about nearly every day (even now that baby’s almost a year old) is how much total sleep baby is getting in any given 24 hour period. It’s recommended that babies get, on average, between 10.5 and 12 hours at night and then around 3 hours during the day across typically two naps. That’s just a rule of thumb, so I’m not exacting on executing on it, but it definitely helps me gauge where baby is during the day.
  2. Bedtime is serious business.The one thing I’m really pretty anal about is baby’s bedtime. And it’s more out of necessity than anything else. Once he hits his wall, it’s meltdown city and, at the end of the day when I’m tired and my nerves are shot, honestly, I can’t deal. So, baby has a pretty strict routine.My friend recommends babies hit the crib sheets sometime between 6:30pm and 8:00pm. In our case, we head up to the nursery around 6:30-6:45pm. Baby gets a diaper change, put in his jammies, and then has a little time to play while I read stories. After about 15-20 minutes of play, I nurse (maybe 10-15 minutes at this stage of the game) and then it’s lights out by 7:30pm.
  3. Never underestimate the power of naps. I’ll be the first one to admit that baby and I are still working on getting him on a really good nap schedule. We’re doing better–he’s pretty consistent with a morning nap now–but the afternoons are still hit or miss. But knowing that baby needs three hours one way or another is helpful because even if he won’t rack out in his crib for a full-fledged nap, I can start to count his quick snoozes in the car or stroller toward the three hour goal. And I’ll tell you the days that he gets his full three hours of naptime, he is definitely a happier baby at the end of the day than the days he doesn’t quite squeeze it all in.But the one thing I have noticed about baby and his naps is that if I take the time to enhance his sleep environment, his chances for nap success are higher. I think at bedtime, he’s more tired, so he’s less distracted by everything and anything; but during the day, I have to try harder to work him down so he will get some good daytime Zzzs.

    My friend recommends room-darkening shades and a white-noise machine. I have neither, but I don’t turn on any lights and I’ve also started playing very soothing music–my favorite right now is Baby Einstein’s “Naptime Melodies”–and it really helps set the mood. I put it on about 10 minutes before I nurse and by the time I hear the whale sounds in song 6, nine times out of 10 baby is asleep.

  4. Routine is key.It pains me to say that, as I don’t like to characterize myself as someone who “schedules” everything. But life with baby is so much easier when there’s some predictability to it. You find yourself getting really efficient during naptime because you know how much time you have to check things off your list and the whole bedtime process goes so much quicker. (At this stage, if I’m entertaining at home, I can get it done in about 10 to 15 minutes.)So, in our house, baby gets up every day at roughly the same time (within a 30-minute window), I try to get him to nap (as best I can) at about the same time every day, and he most definitely goes to bed at pretty the same time every night.
  5. Take ten minutes.No one likes to hear their wee one wail, but it’s likely going to be part of the process. The good news is that once baby is in a routine, there’s less crying. But there’s still a little bit of crying, so don’t try to hold out for a perfect–and improbable–bedtime situation. Even now, there are days when my wee one is just really angry at me when I put him down in his crib. So, here’s what I do: tell him I love him and walk out.Babies need to learn to put themselves to sleep or they will be screaming and counting on you to do that every time they wake up during the night. And babies do go in and out of sleep during the night as part of their natural sleep rhythm.

    I hate the wailing as much as the next mom, so I give myself the 10-minute test. I walk out of his room, shut the door, go downstairs, and without turning the monitor on, I do something like put in a load of laundry, empty the dishwasher, or set the table and then after 10 minutes or so, I flip the monitor on to see if he’s still crying. (A few of my friends set a timer, but I don’t bother.) I have yet to turn that thing on to him still crying. And if he was, then chances are something is wrong, like he’s still hungry or he’s not feeling well.Similarly, if I hear him start to make sounds during the night, the same rules apply. If he’s still crying after five or 10 minutes, I go in and check on him. Otherwise, I stay right in my bed. And you can sort of hear the whole self soothing process. There are a few cries, then some little grunts and wiggling around, and then sweet silence.

These tips probably don’t sound like much more than common sense, but sometimes that’s the first thing that goes when you’re dealing with your child, especially an overtired and (likely) unhappy one. For me, once my friend Meg articulated a lot of these things to me, I was like, “duh.” There were things I didn’t realize I was doing but I was and they were working unbeknownst to me and then there were other things that I had to really work on.

And the reality is that there are always things that I’ll have to work on when it comes to baby’s sleep habits. He’s going to keep growing and changing, so his needs may change, forcing me to adjust his schedule. But having a few basic rules or tips to help guide me has helped us get off to a good start. After all, this is the time when healthy, long-term sleep habits start to form.

But more selfishly than that, I really don’t want to have to buy the book to get some perspective and a sense of humor about why my baby won’t go the f— to sleep. I’d rather him just do it.

Leave a comment

Filed under babies, childrens books, daily life, first year, health, naps, sleep

The House That Pooh Built

Right after baby was born I received as a gift from some wonderful people I

know through work the Pooh Library, a four-volume set of the original Winnie the Pooh books. It’s a really lovely set of books, a nursery essential as far as I am concerned. And while the books are wildly inappropriate for baby at this stage of his short life–he’s 11 months old–I’ve been reading the books to him at night before bed anyway.

I remember loving the Pooh books as a child. Who couldn’t love the books’ cuddly main character whose life direction was always decided by his stomach? But reading them as an adult is a completely different experience. Everything I love about the books now is nothing I loved about them then.

The biggest thing is how I feel about the characters. As a child, my absolute favorite character was Eeyore. He not only found the softest part of my heart but buried himself deep into it. I mean, I think it was normal to feel bad for him. But I had a real love for him; I thought of him as so sweet and so unappreciated. I always felt like Christopher Robin unjustly paid too little attention to this lovely, little creature that just wanted to love and be loved.

But now I read the books and I can’t stand Eeyore. I dread any chapter that begins with “In which…” and ends with “Eeyore.” As an adult, I find him absolutely exhausting. He’s no longer an affable character with a confidence problem; instead, he’s irritatingly self centered and ungrateful. I mean, what kind of animal complains that no one comes to visit Pooh and Piglet when they are visiting him?

But it’s not just a thing with Eeyore. I look at Rabbit, Tigger, and Owl differently, too. As a kid, Rabbit was too bossy for me; he almost came across as crabby rather than take charge. Today, I appreciate his ability to organize, as well as his need and desire to keep everyone together as one big family in the Hundred Acre Wood. But even more than that, I never fully appreciated how intelligent Rabbit was. Christ, he could spell better than Owl! (Incidentally, I never realized how ignorant Owl really was. Maybe it was because I couldn’t spell either.)

And Tigger… in my child’s head, Tigger had tons of personality and was likeable even if his bouncing was annoying. But in re-reading the books, he really doesn’t have much personality at all. Sure, he’s bouncy. But outside that, he doesn’t say much to make me feel really one way or another about him.

Even Pooh, I feel differently about. There isn’t much not to love about Pooh, but as a kid, he was never my favorite. I think he wasn’t serious enough for the serious head I had on my shoulders as a child. Too much stuffing, too little brain, as far as I was concerned. But I like him so much more now. I better recognize his self-effacing nature and appreciate that what very little brain he has is indeed a good bit of brain, as he’s much more imaginative than I ever gave him credit for being when I was younger.

About the only thing that hasn’t changed is my feelings for Piglet; I still don’t care for him at all. Too much of a scardy cat, even if he is pretty smart.

But for as much as I’ve focused on character development, I can’t really say enough about A.A. Milne’s writing. What fabulous writing! Likely it was too sophisticated for my own simple child’s brain, but how lucky I am that I can appreciate it now. Every line is saturated with a tanin-like sense of humor, tasteful, dry, and more potent the more you let it roll around on your tongue. And yet there is the subtle, no where near sticky, sweetness that is so incredibly endearing.

But more interesting is that the writing also has a dark streak running through it that surfaces from time to time to remind us as readers that all good things will come to an end. I’ll try to blame it on the hormones, but it’s admittedly getting kind of late to still be using that excuse; but all the same, I found myself getting to the end of The House at Pooh Corner and being very sad. Like so sad, I had a few tears roll down my cheeks as I powered through a few catches in my throat to finish the last few lines:

Then, suddenly again, Christopher Robin, who was still looking at the world, with his chin in his hands, called out “Pooh!”

“Yes?” said Pooh.

“When I’m–when–Pooh!”

“Yes, Christopher Robin?”

“I’m not going to do do Nothing any more.”

“Never again?”

“Well, not so much. They don’t let you.”

Pooh waited for him to go on, but he was silent again.

“Yes, Christopher Robin?” said Pooh helpfully.

“Pooh, when I’m–you know–when I’m not doing Nothing, will you come up here sometimes?”

“Just Me?”

“Yes, Pooh.”

“Will you be here too?”

“Yes, Pooh, I will be, really. I promise I will be, Pooh.”

“That’s good,” said Pooh.

“Pooh, promise you won’t forget about me, ever. Not even when I’m a hundred.”

Pooh thought for a little.

“How old shall I be then?”

“Ninety-nine.”

Pooh nodded.

“I promise,” he said.

Still with his eyes on the world Christopher Robin put a hand and felt for Pooh’s paw.

“Pooh,” said Christopher Robin earnestly, “if I–if I’m not quite–” he stopped and tried again–“Pooh, whatever happens, you will understand, won’t you?”

“Understand what?”

“Oh, nothing.” He laughed and jumped to his feet. “Come on!”

“Where?” said Pooh.

“Anywhere,” said Christopher Robin.

Even re-typing that little segment brings tears to my eyes. It’s such a sad and subtle and sweet goodbye that I, as an adult, just find it heartbreaking in a way that I couldn’t recognize as a child. Maybe it’s just that these characters have been too Disney-fied, so their depth of character and the richness of the story have been bleached out for mass media. But I’ve had a really hard time these past few days since I finished the book forgetting about book’s wonderful turns of phrase and extremely profound ending.

So, all this to say that I can’t wait until baby is more of a boy and we read the books again (and again). I wonder what mysteries and enlightenment they will hold those next times around.

4 Comments

Filed under babies, baby blues, childrens books, infants, reading

Building a Bilingual Baby

I may not be first (or even second generation) American, but I grew up in a bilingual family.

Well, to be more specific, my mom, a high school French teacher and Francophile through and through, had the harebrained idea that even though we weren’t one bit French she would teach me French by only speaking to me in French as a child. Of course, this plan only went into effect with me, so no one else in my family spoke French but me and my mom. So maybe “family” is a bit of an exaggeration.

The problem with this whole idea was that she spoke to me in French, and while I understood it, I was completely embarrassed by it for one reason or another and always responded to her in English. Why she never forced me to respond in French I have no idea, but I really wish she would have.

So, now I’m the mommy in this scenario and I’ve got a baby that I desperately want to not only speak French as well as I do (or even grandma) but better. But how do I turn that dream into reality? So far I’ve come up with a four-prong plan:

First, I only speak to him in French. From the first “Bonjour, Bébé” in the morning to the last “Bonne nuit, Bébé” at night, we’re speaking frog or we’re not speaking at all.

Second, I joined this mommy group that a friend forwarded me through MeetUp.com called Bonjour, Les Amis. The group is for mommies with infants (<5 yrs old) who want their babies to learn French. Although I was totally mortified by the fact that I had to find friends via the Internet,  I love this group. I don’t know everyone yet, as they meet several times a week and I’m lucky if I can squeeze in one rendezvous, but the Friday regulars are fantastic. I think what I really like is that everyone’s kids are close in age and that the mommies’ language skills are all about the same, so you can get into some good conversation. Of course, at this point, this playgroup is all about the mommies wanting to speak French, but the more the wee ones hear other people speaking it as well, I think the higher the chances that they will not do what I did and refuse to speak French because it’s different than what their friends at school speak.

Third, I aim to take to baby to France (or other French-speaking countries) as much as possible, which I hope is at least once a year.

Fourth, I support his oral development in French by reading to him in French as well as English. This means having lots and lots of books in French and reading some of them to him every night. Sounds simple enough, but it’s a challenge to get good quality books in French here in the States. The Canadian portal to amazon.com offers some selection, but I now consider it a travel perk to spend a half hour in a foreign bookstore picking out French children’s books.

Take my latest trip to Chamonix, for example. Besides the scarves I brought home as gifts for my mother-in-law, nanny, and cleaning lady (and me!), the only other souvenirs I brought home were some baby clothes and baby books, the latter which made my suitcase very heavy on the way back, incidentally. But I couldn’t resist. Why?

First, I’ve always been a sucker for books. My grandmother used to take me on shopping sprees–to the bookstore. There she would buy me as many books as I could carry. (I loved that.) Second, I don’t want baby’s entire library to just be filled with translations of English books. (Although I really love that I have Goodnight Moon and Guess How Much I Love You in both English and French.)

And third, how can I say no to books that are absolutely adorable? Take for example, this one called Poux by Stephanie Blake. It’s the story of Simon who loves Lou, who in turn loves Mamadou. That is until Lou catches lice–poux–and Mamadou says he’s through but Simon’s love shines true. And that gives you an idea of how the book is written–completely in these beautiful, little, sing-song-y rhymes about Lou and her lice.

But for as much as I love the love story, I’m infatuated with Pomelo et les contraires by Ramona Badescu and Bejamin Chaud. It’s a simple book, all about opposites, with an adorable elephant as the main character. The book covers all the basics–high, low; left, right; near, far; open, shut–but the illustrations are what totally make the book. The illustrator definitely had a sense of humor because some of the interpretations of these opposite pairs are hilarious. Point in case, this one about “inside” and “outside”:

Très amusant

 

14 Comments

Filed under bilingual baby, childrens books, foreign language, reading