Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Five ways to get more sleep, even with triplets

As you can imagine, sleep is often in short supply at the Tripped Up Family home, and I'm certain it's the same at many other homes too. There are always plenty of reasons for why I don't get a full night of sleep, and as long as the coffee pot's working well in the morning I usually just push on through.

The sad fact, however, is that prolonged "sleep debt" does far more than make you desperate for a caffeine I.V. According to the National Sleep Foundation, it "can also lead to serious health consequences and jeopardize your safety and the safety of individuals around you. For example, short sleep duration is linked with: increased risk of motor vehicle accidents, increase in body mass index – a greater likelihood of obesity due to an increased appetite caused by sleep deprivation, increased risk of diabetes and heart problems, increased risk for psychiatric conditions including depression and substance abuse, and decreased ability to pay attention, react to signals or remember new information." That's some pretty serious consequences.

So lately I've been thinking about how to address the sleep deprivation at our home, and I've come up with five tactics to help us (well, mostly me). I'm thinking they may be helpful for others too:

  1. Establish a real and earlier bedtime - That may not sound earth-shattering or brilliant, but if you're anything like me, bedtime is usually this phantom "when the work gets done" or when I'm so exhausted I can't move anymore time. Instead, set up a reasonable bedtime and then keep it - set a timer if you have to. The key is reasonable - as in allowing you to get a little closer to the suggested hours of sleep needed for adults, but still leaving room for your daily routines.
  2.  Stop the "just one more thing" pattern - Do you suffer from "just one more thing-itis?" Common symptoms include making statements like, "I'm heading to bed as soon as I fold one more load of laundry," or "I'm calling it quits as soon as I finish this one last thing." Invariably, I always find "one more thing" to do after I've finished the first thing and it goes on and on. Instead, make a list of the non-negotiables that must be done before the end of the day. If you have time to get beyond the non-negotiables before your reasonable bedtime, great, if not, save it for the weekend, or better yet, delegate it.
  3. Seriously evaluate your non-negotiables and learn to delegate - When you write down your non-negotiable tasks for each day, be honest. What really, really, really has to be done? While all of us would like a spotless home at the end of the each day, is it really more important than getting your needed sleep? (Remember the consequences of sleep deprivation - somehow a dusted bookshelf doesn't hold as much weight in comparison). Once you've come up with your list of "Must be dones," decide what you could delegate to your partner, an older child, the nanny, etc. 
  4. Don't jump headlong into "the do more at night for a better morning" routine - Ever read those wonderful articles that tell you how to have a smoother morning? If you have, you'll soon see many of the tips involve planning ahead (which isn't a bad thing) and doing more the night before. Sometimes there are so many things to do the night before, that you could end up staying up far later than you should preparing for a better morning. While many of the ideas are great, be sure to consider any extra nighttime tasks when you develop your daily non-negotiables. I think if you get more rest, you'll begin to have more energy and perhaps can add more to your list, but at the beginning, just stick with those non-negotiable tasks.
  5. 30 minutes to bedtime is not screen time - You only have a few minutes until that established bedtime of yours, and you haven't had much "fun" or adult time all day. Watching TV or browsing online (Facebook, twitter and more) seems perfect. Fair warning though, if it's too close to bedtime, you may get sucked into the "screen time vortex" only to pull yourself out of it hours later. And there goes the hope of a reasonable, established bedtime. Set your own limit for when screen time is just plain too close to bedtime to be managed well.
These tips may seem to simply be tricks you play on yourself to get to bed earlier, and perhaps that's all they are. As a person who loves spontaneity, I often find that I need to trick myself into some structure that's good for me, otherwise I'll be doing who knows what at whatever time and letting my sleep become the first victim of it all. Perhaps you're more disciplined than I, and if so, I applaud you. Maybe you have some even better ideas than I do, if so, I'd love to hear about them!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter explosion

Now all we need is for the Easter Bunny to come and hide all the goodies. Happy Easter everyone!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

D Day = 13 days to single parenting

The countdown is on and the tension is rising. Single parenthood looms large and begins May 2.

No, don't worry, Tripped up Mommy & Daddy are still madly in love, but come May 2, we'll be living in separate homes during the week, about 100 miles apart, throughout the summer. The big commute is about to begin.

I never know exactly what to expect in this tripped up world of mine, but operating as a single parent 4 nights out of the week for 4 months, wasn't exactly high on my list, I have to admit. I'm extremely happy about the opportunity that Tripped up Daddy has however and wouldn't ask him to ignore it for anything. So, I've got 13 days to get prepped, settle down and make it work.

It's not as though I've never been a single mother with a full-time job, just never
with 4 kids, 3 of whom are 2-1/2- years-old. We're talking tantrums, potty-training, messy dinners, and high maintenance bath times. And like it or not, my teenager still wants to take driver's training. Like a friend said recently, it's time to start channeling Rosie the Riveter. 

And really, when I think of it like that, my situation is so small when you consider what many of our military families had back in WWII and some face even yet today. My 4 paltry months of 1/2 time single parenting looks pretty darn easy in comparison. Still, the fear and tension remains a bit. Have already started the "buy the right book" coping mechanism - Organized Simplicity: The Clutter-Free Approach to Intentional Living, Clutter Rehab and The Happiest Mom all guaranteed to help me be more peaceful and better organized, right? Hired a wonderful live-in nanny who starts in just a couple weeks and current sitter will help until she arrives. The plans are already coming together beautifully, right?

I Am Woman, hear me roar, right? Bring home the bacon & do everything else, right?

Okay, yeah, I'm scared. Triplets are sometimes just plain intimidating. So, if you have any fantastic quick & easy dinner ideas for the crockpot (or other easy to throw together idea) I'm all for it. In fact, if you have any time-saving, miracle-producing ideas at all - I'll take 'em. (Miracle-producing, not meaning additional children, mind you, I'm fine with the 4 miracles I have, thank you.) I'm just not sure my channel to Rosie is quite as clear as I'd like yet.

Friday, April 15, 2011

When does good parenting become too intense?

In the midst of a sickness ridden home last weekend, I found myself watching an amazing PBS documentary about a family with a young boy, Graham, who had been diagnosed with autism. As I watched, it became clear that he actually struggled with “autistic-like behaviors” and perhaps was not even correctly diagnosed with autism. Wonderfully inspirational, I smiled and cried at the same time while watching. This excellently produced story is by Erik Linthorst, who also happens to be Graham’s father.

The story captivated me for a number of reasons, and as a mom of three toddlers with delayed milestones, I couldn’t help but draw parallels from the Linthorst family to ours. There is an undeniable pull for every parent to make sure their child succeeds. Admit it, we all really want each of our children to be the best. (Yes, there is a little Tiger Mom in all of us, isn’t there?) So when you see that your child is behind, or struggling in development, you certainly mourn a bit, but you also take action and get busy. You want the best for your child, to help her catch up in her milestones, or to reach her highest potential no matter where that ceiling may be. Of course you accept your child’s uniqueness and the limitations of whatever the diagnosis may be, but that doesn’t stop you from getting the needed intervention and correct therapies.

That’s part of why I loved this story - this couple never stopped looking for the best for their son. Never. And I hope that’s me in relation to my own children, but there is also a piece of the story that scares me. Graham’s mother says more than once throughout the program that she feels pressured to save her son’s life - that if she doesn’t engage 200% all the time, never sitting down at the playground, always interacting, always pushing, always pressing into the next step - Graham won’t move on. The feeling of you can never, ever let up, because “I have to save his life.”

I get that feeling. I really do. It’s a weight that carries so much guilt you sometimes struggle to breathe. And as much as I respect the Linthorst family and all that they’ve done for their son (and many others by sharing their story), I’m compelled to say, “Wait, really? Save his life?” Is that amount of intensity appropriate and warranted?

Maybe it’s just that if it is warranted and required to be a good parent, then I’ve got more than Trouble in River City - I’ve got a disaster. I have 3 toddlers - all with delayed milestones and it’s simply impossible for me to ensure that I’m always 200% engaged with each one of them. I mean absolutely impossible.

But here’s the thing, is it really necessary to be that? Yes, it’s vital for me to engage with my daughters. It’s important to play one-on-one with each of them and get as much eye contact as possible. It’s critical to speak with them, to read to them, to play with them, and to do it all one-on-one whenever I can. Because I do want them to speak someday, and I do want them to be able to function in society to the best of their abilities. Yet, if I end up calling that “saving their lives,” it puts me in a no-win emotional tug of war not only between the three of them, but also with my teen, Lotte, and every other task that I am required to do for daily survival in our home. I don’t think I could withstand that tug of war.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to minimize the concerns or urgency of action that Graham’s mom had (and has), or any other parent of a child with a difficult diagnosis, but I do wonder if the intensity sometimes overshadows the larger picture. Could it lead to such a level of guilt that you wind up in a chronic depressed or paralyzed state? Does it wear you out to the point where your reserves can’t battle illness? How much can you expect of yourself, other than to love and accept your child, and take steps every day to help them grow a little bit more?

I have friends with autistic children - they have questions I could never imagine, like “Will my child ever speak to me at all? Will he ever be able to use the bathroom alone? I am lucky, my questions about my daughters aren’t that deep (although sometimes I do wonder if Angel triplet will ever communicate with me verbally besides humming). But really, I know my daughters will catch up - I’m just not exactly sure when. And while I have no desire to minimize those very profound issues that other parents face, the statement “save his life” still haunts me.

What do you think, is it possible for good, loving parenting to become so intense it hurts the parent(s) and perhaps the child? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Sometimes I forget my triplets have milestone delays

Every day at our house is so filled with basic care of toddlers and concentrated efforts to guide each of them along at their particular level, that sometimes I forget about where a “normal” (I hate that word) nearly 2-1/2 year old should be regarding developmental milestones. Aside from the internal comparisons to what I remember life was like when my 14 year old was their age (which is its own bad idea for many reasons, not the least of which is bad memory). I know intellectually we have significant delays, especially in speech and language, but as we live our lives, I adjust my expectations and continue to work with each triplet where they are today. Teaching wherever I can, trying to emphasize sounds, using sign language, encouraging simple words, etc.

Then, come the days when you work in the church nursery or visit friends with kids of similar age or go to the park, etc. Suddenly, you see a little girl their age doing things you are still dreaming of for your children - things like saying, “I want my mommy!” or following easy directions like “can you get a book for me and I’ll read it to you.” Sometimes even from children younger than they are and all of a sudden the reality of significant milestone delays hits you like bricks falling from the sky.

Then you fight off tears as best you can, smile and keep going. You see, there’s no one in the world who wants to hear our 2-1/2-year-olds speak and share their thoughts more than Tripped Up Daddy and me, but we can only get there one step at a time. And by the way, that’s their steps not necessarily the big giant steps I’d like to take.

Sometimes I think back to when I first had that painful thought, “Are my kids behind? I mean, like behind enough that I should be worried? The doctor hasn’t been worried, should I be?” and all the other questions that raged in my head. There are all the comments you get from everyone - “kids develop at their own rates, don’t worry so much” and the like, which I think I listened to too long. When you’re dealing with the initial 15 months of raising triplets, sometimes survival and immediate needs keep you in a potential state of denial longer than is healthy. We started asking the serious questions when the triplets were 18 months, like it or not, I still wish we would have begun pursuing help at 12 months or 15 months.

Our first call was to the Early Intervention group in our state, once our pediatrician indicated he would support a call to the organization. Since then, we’ve had the girls assessed and are busily working on their Individualized Education Plans, which are updated every 6 months with a new assessment. We don’t talk a lot about “catching up” anymore with their special ed teachers, speech pathologists, and more, instead we just focus on the goals for each girl.

I found the tagline of the group very compelling, “Don’t worry, but don’t wait.” Recently a friend asked me about who I called, because she had some concerns about her own child. Once she visited the site, we talked about that tagline. It was interesting because we’re both writers, and we both thought, “Damn, that’s good copywriting.

The hardest part of having kids with delayed milestones is being willing to make the first call, I think. It’s hard to admit your kid may be struggling. It makes you confront all kinds of worries you may not want to really acknowledge. The key is to make that call. Every state in the U.S. has an Early Intervention program which will help assess your child.

If you’re even worried at all about milestone delays, check with your pediatrician or family doctor. Both will have information on which milestones should be occurring at which month, etc. You want to know what to expect and what to keep an eye on with milestones and specifically speech delays. In short, I advocate calling for help earlier rather than later, because if there really are delays, the sooner you know, the sooner you can start helping your child in specific ways.

I know someday my triplets will talk to me, but today it’s a dream. And I’m doing all I can to help them get there in the meantime.