That Toddler Life

Vivi is almost two, and while most of the time I would confidently say that no one knows her like I do, I also have moments of feeling like, “Um, hi? Who is this child?”

Parenthood is such a wild ride of uncertainty and hard-won moments of confidence. When you finally find something you feel like you’ve figured out, often times, the rug is very suddenly ripped out from under you just weeks or even days later.

With Vivi, I’ve long felt like the two things we had down pat were eating and sleeping. We sleep trained at an early age (something I am a proponent of and happy to discuss further with anyone who wants to know!), so getting Vivi to bed and having her sleep through the night has always gone fairly smoothly.

We also started exposing Vivi to a variety of healthy tastes fairly early on, which eventually turned her into a little gal who loved vegetables, fruit, and other healthy flavors.

All that is to say, I actually felt confident in both things.

But, as we know, motherhood is a constant exercise in humility. As Vivi has gotten older, she has gotten more expressive and her desire for some degree of control over her life has increased.

Hey, I get it! I hate having someone tell me what to do all the time. I love getting to make my own choices. Which isn’t to say it’s not a pain in my backside when Vivi regresses in something or deliberately disobeys, but we’re all learning here, right?

Yesterday, Vivi started crawling out of her crib every time we put her in, so we decided to make the switch to a “big girl” bed today. I had been planning to transition her at the end of the month, but I was feeling anxious because I loved our easy-breezy bedtimes and was worried the extra freedom would bring them to a crashing halt. But once those seemed to be stopping anyway, I at least wanted her to be able to crawl back into bed when she finally decided she was tired.

Tonight was our first night with the new bed, and Vivi cried for about 20 seconds before putting herself back in bed and passing out per usual. *phew*

As for eating, she still has a pretty open-minded palate, and most of her favorite foods are nutritious options. That being said, getting her to try new things has become more and more of a struggle. Which is why I’m always on the prowl for simple ways to incorporate more and new vegetables in familiar ways.

Tonight’s recipe was an experiment gone right, so I thought I’d share. Happy toddler feeding! (Note: Also good for grown-up taste buds.)

Cauliflower “Fried Rice” with Grilled Chicken and Crispy Brussel Sprouts

Ingredients:
2 cups brussel sprouts, trimmed and halved
avocado oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 yellow onion, diced
3 carrots, diced
1 head cauliflower, pulsed in food processor to rice-like consistency
3 T amino acids or soy sauce
2 T white vinegar
2 grilled chicken breasts, roughly chopped into bite-sized pieces
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Toss brussel sprouts in 2 T avocado oil and salt and pepper and spread onto a baking sheet in one layer. Roast for 30 minutes or until crispy.

Heat 2 T avocado oil in a large skillet on medium-high. Once oil is hot, add garlic, onion, carrots, and salt and pepper. Stir until onions are translucent.

Add cauliflower, 3 T avocado oil, salt and pepper, amino acids, and white vinegar. Stirring frequently, cook mixture for about five minutes.

Add chicken and cook for additional five minutes.

To plate, spoon cauliflower mixture into a bowl and top with crispy brussel sprouts. I find it’s helpful to continually tell your toddler about the “yummy rice!” you are about to eat.

Enjoy!

Lately, Vivi’s favorite sentence seems to be, “Yook, Mommy!”

I should probably have mentioned that she hasn’t quite learned to pronounce the letter L yet, so she says it like the letter Y. Okay, we all on the same page now? Good.

When she says it, sometimes she also puts a tiny hand on the side of my face to turn my head toward whatever she wants me to look at.

I find it to be such a delicious impulse, this desire to share whatever she likes with me. To want to make sure that I don’t miss out on whatever new wonder she has discovered.

The irony is, of course, that I’m the one who is supposed to be showing her the world. The one who leads her on new adventures, teaches her about…well, everything.

But isn’t it just the way that my stubborn little girl is the one reminding me to stop, to “yook,” and to appreciate the little things in a whole new way.

Technically, I’m not sure if it’s a true regression or just remnants of a toddler not fully adjusted since our move. Moves throw off routine and structure (two of toddlers’ favorite things, despite what they’ll tell you), and sleep is usually one of the first things to suffer.

But the point is, while Vivi started going to bed like normal just two days after we moved, she has progressively been waking up about ten minutes earlier every day.

Today, it came to a head when she started calling me at 5:44 a.m.

It was clear: We needed a sleep training refresher.

If you’ve spent more than four seconds talking parenthood with me, you know I’m a huge proponent of sleep training. It has worked wonders for us since Vivi was about two-and-a-half months old, and I’ve never looked back.

There have been times like this in the past (real sleep regressions as a result of development), so I know we can get back on a good schedule, but I also know the re-“training” only gets harder as Vivi gets older.

And dang if she doesn’t know how to work it.

Because, here’s the thing: It’s really hard to make the informed, adult decision at 5:44 a.m.

You’re asking a progressively sleep-deprived brain to choose “lie awake and listen to angry baby” instead of “get baby and doze in my bed together.” I imagine my brain as a dumb ogre swatting away rational thought and just reaching for the easiest option that ends in more sleep.

Not to mention the fact that listening to your kid cry just sucks. And makes time seem to stand still. You’ll close your eyes for what feels like ten minutes of screaming and then look st the clock to realize it has been 45 seconds. Awesome.

But because I really don’t want to be woken up tomorrow (and every day for the next year) and 5:30 a.m. or 4:00 a.m., I tell myself to be strong and write a blog post to distract myself.

Because she’s not waking up because she’s fully rested. (I’m literally writing this while she yells, “Dada!! Take nap!!!!”, which means she wants him to come get her so they can go take a nap. Insanity.) She wakes up tired and angry she’s still tired, and she needs to re-learn to go back to sleep when she feels that way.

But that doesn’t mean the learning process doesn’t suck a lot.

Any other sleep regression trenches stories out there people want to share?

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Not surprisingly, motherhood is packed with an assortment of learning experiences. You learn that you can function on roughly twenty minutes of sleep. You learn that actually, no, four diapers is not enough to pack for your first long outing with an infant.

You learn enough about this tiny new human in your life to fill several books.

But you learn a lot about yourself, too. Sometimes it’s great. (“Hey! I am pretty good at X!”) Sometimes it’s not.

Recently, I learned that I am incredibly uncomfortable with failure.

I don’t feel like that sentence adequately describes the emotional turmoil I experienced when I had this revelation. Let me back up.

A couple of weeks ago, we attempted potty training. Yes, I heard from all the people that this was probably crazy. Yes, I realized that I was also packing for an out-of-state move, so, in hindsight, I should probably have predicted a few bumps.

But Vivi is so smart! She was already exhibiting all the traits of a toddler ready to potty train! She had even successfully peed in the potty a few times! And I had read a book! (Because I have always read a book.) I was so prepared to power through a week of intense training and emerge proud, victorious, and diaper-less.

And then real life set in.

I’ll spare you the gory details, but the essential details of this training method say your kid needs to be naked until they start to get the concept of going in the potty. Obviously, this leads to quite a few accidents. Meaning I was cleaning up a lot of pee. And, yeah, some poo. To be fair, Vivi was actually making really good progress. She went from being totally clueless about what her body was doing to being able to tell me about a second before it happened that she needed to potty. But a week after we started, I hit a breaking point.

For one, I was out of time. I had blocked out one week, and I simply couldn’t dedicate the rest of the month to this project because of the aforementioned move.

For another, my nerves were shot. It’s almost embarrassing how frazzled needing to catch Vivi peeing left me. But every night when I could finally put a diaper on her to go to sleep, I felt like it was the first time I exhaled all day.

One night, every time I would start to drift off, I would fall into a dream where I would be looking at Vivi just as she started to pee on the floor. I would wake up literally lunging to grab her, adrenaline pumping through my already exhausted body.

In short, I was a wreck.

It probably didn’t help that my life was completely turned upside down. We still didn’t know where we were living post-move, I had so. much. packing. to do, and we were beaten out on a house that we wanted to buy. Plus, I hadn’t really left the apartment for five days. Nothing felt like it was going right, and every time I would have to get on my knees to wipe up a puddle of urine, it felt like a personal insult.

That night I kept having the horrible lunging dream, I finally got out of bed around 3 a.m. to read the part of my book about troubleshooting. In short, it said that if your child is 18-20 months, they are capable of being trained, but they are most likely going to need more time. Time I didn’t have.

So, at 3:32 a.m., I made a deal with myself: I would give it two more days, and if Vivi didn’t show serious signs of picking it up, we would put it off until we were settled in our new place. A bunch of people had also warned me that moves can cause even well trained toddlers to regress, and the thought of taking steps backward was literally bringing me to tears.

Two days later, Vivi had improved, but not to the point where I felt like I could comfortably leave her unattended or even leave the house with her diaper-less. So I called it. The diaper went back on, and life continued as it was. (Except that now Vivi tells me whenever she’s peeing in her diaper.)

It was then that I had to face the music: I had failed.

Granted, no one likes to fail. But I realized that it embarrasses me on a deep, dark level. And, having realized, this, I felt embarrassed that I was so embarrassed. Because this wasn’t really failure, right? It’s a set-back. It’s bad timing. Why do I care so much? But I found myself in a position that, no matter how much I tried or focused on the problem, I had to admit defeat.

Defeat is really not my forte.

But, in happier news, this experience has also taught me how to let myself off the hook. Yes, things didn’t go according to my (arbitrary) plan. But we’ll try again, and Vivi will probably pick it up quicker with this experience under her belt (and once she’s in an environment where everything isn’t topsy-turvy). Vivi doesn’t hold it against me (or maybe she does? Guess we’ll have to wait for her memoir to know for sure…), so I can let it go too.

Parent readers, tell me about your own parenting “failures.” Did you beat yourself up as much as I do?

1. Buy a bunch of boxes weeks out from your move date whilst smugly telling yourself, “Gosh, I’m so on the ball! This will be done in no time.”

2. Spend the next week staring at boxes with remorse because #momlife.

3. Two weeks from your deadline, start attempting to pack at least five boxes a day when you first get up.

4. Promptly abandon this plan because your toddler keeps taking things out of the boxes or demanding to be held while you pack. Nap time packing it is!

5. Spend half an hour debating which toys she won’t notice if you pack now. Spend subsequent half hour asking yourself why you even have those toys. Deal with subsequent meltdown when she asks for packed toys the next day.

6. Repeatedly stub your toe/smack your funny bone while chasing toddler through growing towers of boxes. Consider burning it all for the insurance money, but stop because, well, you’re setting an example.

7. After bedtime, pour some rosé in a plastic cup (because the glass ones are packed) and tell yourself this will all be over soon.

In some ways, being a parent give you a lot of perspective. You suddenly appreciate your own parents. You reprioritize everything. You stop caring about everything being perfect all the time. (Mostly.)

In other ways, being a parent makes you lose all sense of time, space, and perspective.

Most of the time, Vivi is a really good kid. Like, really good. She’s happy. She’s friendly. She’s smart. She’s sweet. I hit the jackpot, folks.

And then…well, then, other times, things go differently.

A couple of weeks ago, we were at one of our religious meetings. I had spent the night at a friend’s house (she’s pregnant and her husband was out of town AND I DON’T NEED TO EXPLAIN TO YOU WHY I AM ALMOST 30 AND HAVE SLEEPOVERS), so I didn’t see Vivi until the meeting at 2:45.

As soon as I got there, I could tell she was in a funny mood.

Not funny ha-ha. Not funny like a clown. Funny like, “Huh…maybe we should all go back to bed and try again tomorrow.”

She was also only wearing a shirt and tights because DADS. That part was actually hilarious. But I digress…

I heard about five minutes of the entire hour-and-a-half meeting because Vivi started to shriek as soon as the talk started. I spent the rest of the time in the lobby watching her literally sprint in dizzying circles around me while yelping every 15 seconds. Any time I would try to make her stop and calm down, she would full-on smack me in the face. I would discipline her, she would “apologize” (can you really take a toddler apology seriously? you know they don’t mean it), we would return to the public eye, and the spectacle would continue.

Everyone who walked by would give me a sympathetic smile or ask what was wrong with her. “I don’t know, it’s the strangest thing — there’s nothing about this in the manual!!!” I would rave at them. In my head. Out loud, I would say, “I think she’s just tired.” Or teething. Or hungry.

OR A TOTAL MONSTER.

Because, in those moments, in the darkness of parenting, you are convinced that this is your new demon baby and it is never, ever leaving. Your happy kid? Gone. And it’s probably your fault. It’s probably that time you let her eat a non-organic banana because she needed a snack and it’s all they had at the coffee shop. And now, look what you get for forgetting a dietarily appropriate snack: a demon baby. Your welcome, terrible mom.

Even if you don’t blame yourself for getting to this point, it doesn’t matter. It’s your fault that you are not a good enough mom to make the terror stop. Your new baby dictator will now rule for the rest of her days, and all you can do is pretend like you know how to discipline her and hold your breath to see if anything works. Scary voice? No. Pow-pow? Nada. Sticking her in a chair until she says she’ll be good? Nice try, Mom. If that is your real name!!!

Hopefully, by the time you get over a year into this gig, you at least have the rational state of mind to remind yourself (even if you don’t believe it) that this too shall pass. Remember the puking days? Remember the non-sleeping days? Remember the crying-all-day-for-no-apparent-reason days? You thought those would all last forever too, and look at you now. So you grit your teeth and count the minutes until bedtime, all with the faint hope that she will wake up tomorrow your sweet, wonderful baby again.

So back to the day in question. I’d like to tell you that we both had some kind of epiphany where we came to terms and understood each other and returned peacefully for the end of the meeting. But that’s not what happened. What happened is she started doing this thing where she would look me dead in the eye and open her mouth and just scream and scream and scream until she needed to take a breath.

The scariest part? She never broke eye contact. And her eyes were very clearly saying, “What are you going to do about it?”

And here’s what I did: I handed her to a friend and ran to the bathroom to cry. And then I came out, grabbed my stuff and Vivi, and we left. We just went home. Where she could scream and I could cry, and no one could see or judge us.

And eventually bed time came. And the next morning, things were better.

Because that is parenting. It’s crying and worrying you’re screwing it all up one day and loving the crap out of that little perfect monster the next.

So I’m trying not to worry too much if I don’t know what I’m going to do about it. If I don’t know what I’m doing ever. Because we’re figuring it out, all of us. And tomorrow? Things will be better.