Talking to Kids About Sex

SMirC-embarassedEvery parent I know dreads having “the talk” with their child. It’s tough to decide when to have the talk, what to say, and how to broach such an important subject in a way that won’t be embarrassing or uncomfortable. But talking to kids about sex needs to happen, and probably sooner than you think.

Before this was even on my radar, a friend of my son’s (who had very informative older brothers) told him about the mechanics of sex. He was seven and I was horrified when an adult made a joke about sex in front of him and he replied “I know what that means.” As much as I wanted to freak out, I remained calm enough to talk with him about what he’d learned so that I could figure out what to do next. For better or for worse, the little boy’s brothers had given him a fairly anatomically-correct description of sex, which he’d helpfully passed on to my son and his first grade classmates.

So that’s my first tip: If you want to be the first one to talk to your children about sex, you’re probably going to need to start talking about this earlier than you thought.

My second tip: Do your homework. And make sure you know what your own views are on this topic as you read up. After that first surprising conversation with my son, my best friend directed me to Planned Parenthood’s website, which is full of excellent age-appropriate resources for talking about sex and sexuality with preschoolers, elementary schoolers, and teenagers about sex.

The most comprehensive article I found on talking with kids about sex is this one from US News and World Report. For a slightly less dry first-hand account, this one written by a doctor sharing her own ongoing conversation about sexuality with her daughter, provides a helpful perspective. The University of Washington also did an excellent Ask the Experts on this topic this summer, interviewing two experts in human sexuality. The interview contains not only good tips, but some great books that parents can use to facilitate these difficult conversations.

Third tip: Bring a book or two to “the talk.” Not only does it give you and your child a focal point (especially helpful if one or both of you is embarrassed), but it also gives the child a text they can walk away with and mull over in privacy. These types of issues are hard to take in for the first time and especially if your child needs some time to process, it may take an hour, a few days, or even a few weeks for your child to come up with the questions he or she wants to ask on this topic. It took my son several months to admit to me that his friend had told him about sex, and the conversations that revelation started continue today (he’s now ten, and on the verge of beginning sex education at school).

Narrated by the proverbial bird and bee, this popular series starts with a book for preschoolers called It’s Not the Stork and continues on to It’s So Amazing and It’s Perfectly Normal for older children.

I wish I had discovered this series when my children were preschool aged so that my son would have had a little more preparation for his enlightening conversation with his classmate. The same author wrote Let’s Talk About Where Babies Come From, which is the book I ultimately selected to fill in the gaps in my son’s knowledge and to present to his younger sister when the time came this fall for her to have the talk as well.

There’s some great fiction on this topic too. Judy Blume’s classic, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret isn’t the only choice any more. Stephanie Greene‘s Sophie Hartley and the Facts of Life also handles this issue in a more contemporary setting.

We’re just getting in to puberty discussions with our children now (*gulp*), so a follow-up post will be in order when the time comes. What resources did you use when talking with your kids about sex? Have an embarrassingly-hilarious story of your own to share? The more we talk about this as parents, the easier it will be to talk to our kids.

Back to School!

A photo of Gabriel's first day of kindergarten, 2010
Gabriel's first day of kindergarten in Colorado, August 2010

I’ve never been one of those moms who cried at milestones. I’ve looked forward to the first solid food, the first steps, the first loose tooth, and even the first day of school. It’s hard not to be excited when your kids are absolutely desperate to escape you and each otherover the moon at the thought of seeing their friends after nearly two months of traveling.

But something’s just a bit different this year. Not only are we 6,000 miles away from where this picture was taken on Gabriel’s first day of kindergarten in Colorado last year, but this year, Lily starts school too. That’s right. As of 8:45 this morning, I’m sort of an empty-nester. The International School doesn’t have a half day option for kindergarten, so Lily will be joining Gabriel at school five full days per week. Besides catching up on the 800 blog posts I’ve been meaning to write about our amazing summer, I’m a bit at loose ends. Maybe it’s because the kids have been with me pretty much around the clock since early June. Maybe it’s because it seems impossible to me that my baby is actually a five year old who managed to lose her first tooth and teach herself to read this summer. And did I mention that’s she’s grown? Read more

Finding our School Groove

Gabriel & Lily on the first day of school this year

Like many American parents, I spent a great deal of time the past two years completely freaking out worrying about sending my children to school. Public school? Broken, underfunded, full of bullies, a little scary. Private school? Long commute, overpriced, not feasible, full of rich kids & drugs, a little scary. Home school? Holy shit. Lots of fear there too (Am I good enough/patient enough to do it? How will I get them social interaction? How will I have a life?!).

At the time I had no idea that I’d be taking the easy way out of this debate by moving to Finland two months into Gabriel’s first year of school. The school was already chosen (most of Nokia’s expat families send their children to the International School of Helsinki, Nokia foots the bill, it’s one of the few options for English-speaking children, and they had a spot for Gabriel.). Whew! Read more

One of the Fifty Million…

This weekend, I attended a talk by Kip Nash, a Boulder man who has turned many of the front yards in his neighborhood into farm plots as part of the Boulder Community Roots project. If the endless gorgeous seed catalogs, warm weather, and the kohlrabi, sorrel, kale, garlic, onions, garlic chives, and strawberries sprouting in my garden didn’t do it already, spring garden fever set in with a vengeance after his inspiring talk.

At one point, he referenced Richard Heinberg–a peak oil guy– Read more

Urgent – Bassinet recall due to risk of death

I have been watching CPSC recalls for about four years now (you know, ever since I became a parent) and this is the first one I remember that was issued due to the tragic death of a child. In the case of the Simplicity bassinet pictured here, two infants died as a result of slipping between the metal bars of the unit. If you have a bassinet like this, please read the full text of the CPSC recall and stop using the bassinet immediately until you can verify whether it is one of the recalled models.

This week, the CPSC and Optave Inc. also issued a joint recall of Optave’s Action Baby Carriers due to reports that the chest strap can detach, posing a fall hazard. Again, you can read the full text of the recall, and see pictures of the carriers, on the CPSC’s web site. Please spread the word about this important safety information.

Co-Sleeping, it’s not just for mamas and babies anymore!

I have blogged about co-sleeping and night-nursing/night-weaning ad nauseum quite a bit in the past two years (night-weaning resources, night-weaning), and now I’m hear to share the next installment in the suspenseful thriller that is sleep at Chez Artz.

You see, although I’ve been co-sleeping with my daughter, Lily, for most of her nearly 2.5 years, I have never really gotten in a groove. Sure, it’s fun to snuggle up with her when I go to sleep at night, and yes, I love our morning nursing session, which is always full of hilarious antics and love. It’s the part in between these two events that has consistently bothered me. You know, the part where Lily either sleeps with her head wedged uncomfortably in my armpit, with her head on top of my head on my pillow, with her feet digging into Matt’s ribs, or where, even better, she doesn’t sleep at all and instead just nurses all night long.

At any rate, once she passed her second birthday, we thought we might be in a position to encourage her to sleep on her own. So in June, we moved our queen-sized guest bed into her room. It went well for most of this summer, with Matt & I taking turns sleeping with her if she awoke in the night and needed some company.

Then the unexpected happened: Gabriel decided he wanted to sleep with Lily. I think it started after our last camping trip, during which they not only slept together, but spent some time in the same sleeping bag! So I talked a lot with them about it and, after a few nights of Gabriel chickening out and going back to his own room, he stayed in Lily’s room all night long.

The amazing thing is that one of the first nights, we heard Lily fussing and came to the door of her room in time to hear Gabriel say “It’s OK, Lily, go back to sleep” and SHE DID!!! I won’t say we haven’t been awake in the middle of the night with the kids since, but they’ve been sleeping together for nearly three weeks now and both of them seem to be really happy about it. The adorable thing is that I’ll go in to check on them before we go to bed and half the time, they’re spooning in the middle of the bed–they both seem to really like the closeness, and I can’t blame them.

This was an unexpected twist in our sleeping adventures, but I’m going with it. As long as both kids are happy to sleep together, I’m happy to let them! I asked Gabriel how long he was going to sleep with Lily and he said “until I start school.” I thought he meant until preschool started this fall, but he clarified, “no, until I’m big enough to drive a firetruck.” When I suggested that he might not think sleeping with his sister was quite so cool when he was 18, he looked at me like I was crazy 😉

Night Weaning Resources for the Sleep Deprived

I woke up around midnight last night to the battle cry of my 22-month-old daughter, “Mommy mook, Mommy mook!” Her door was open, so usually she would come into our bedroom to demand milk in the night. But last night she didn’t. Last night she just howled with rage. Why? Because, even in her half-awake state, she remembered our discussion before bedtime and, in fact, every night this week. It went something like this:

Me: “Say night night to the milk. Mommy’s milk is very tired and is going to sleep now. It won’t wake up until the sun comes up.”

Lily, with sufficiently dramatic moans: “Night night mookie.”

I kiss her forehead, she pats the “mookie,” and I lay with her until she falls asleep. Then I creep out and wonder what the night will bring.

One might argue that the tail end of my husband’s two-week absence (business travel), but severe sleep deprivation can motivate like nothing else. And besides, we actually night weaned Lily this fall at 18 months, which lasted precisely until her teeth started coming in last month. You know, those “easy” ones, the canines, that are supposed to slip right in unnoticed (*insert wry laughter here*).

Our struggles with night weaning are not from lack of resources, but I thought other sleep-deprived night-nursing mamas might like to see a summary of them, so here goes.

La Leche League International has a great reader write-in called Setting Limits on Nighttime Nursing. Reading it gives you an idea of just how emotionally-charged this issue can be and how guilt-ridden gentle parents feel when they make a decision that is purely for their own benefit and not their child’s. Honestly, I feel badly enough that I’m not co-sleeping with Lily any more, because she obviously loves having mookie right there at her disposal for all night nurse-fests, so feeling guilty about the night weaning was something I was trying to avoid.

One mother sagely writes:

Every child is different, as is every mother. I think some children “outgrow” the need or desire to nurse at night, and some don’t. I think some mothers can do it indefinitely and some can’t. It’s so very important to honor and embrace your own limits. I had reached mine and realized that too often I woke up tired, angry, and resentful if I was nursing my toddler every hour or so throughout the night. I simply couldn’t mother my daughter the way I wanted to when running on empty. I believe that extended nursing is full of long-term benefits, but that extended nighttime nursing can come at a high price. If you think it’s time to curb night nursing, your daughter can continue to benefit from nursing during the day and you both can get good sleep.

Another shares her technique, which is very similar to what we did with Lily:

When my son was 22 months old and began to clearly communicate and understand situations better, we decided to night wean him. Our plan was to nurse him to sleep and then no more nursing until morning. It was one of the most emotionally challenging things I’ve ever experienced. I felt guilty, mean, and sad that I was denying my son the experience of nursing. But, it was only that first night that was hard. For about the first two weeks he still asked for “na-na” but really knew deep down that “na-na was asleep” and he’d have to wait until morning to get it.

Then a miracle occurred—he began sleeping through the night. I had to re-learn how to sleep through the night, too. After three months of no night nursing other than nursing to sleep at bedtime, I am well rested and confident in our decision.

If you’re still feeling guilty about night weaning, check out AskDrSears.com’s 12-step program 😉 And of course, their Baby Book and Breastfeeding books are full of good advice as well.

Martha notes: “One of the ways we have survived toddlers who wants to nurse frequently during the night was for me to temporarily go off “night call.” Bill would wear Stephen down in a baby sling, so he got used to Bill’s way of putting him to sleep. When he woke up, Bill would again provide the comfort he needed by rocking and holding him in a neck nestle position, using the warm fuzzy and singing a lullaby. Babies may initially protest when offered father instead of mother, but remember, crying and fussing in the arms of a loving parent is not the same as “crying it out.” Dads, realize that you have to remain calm and patient during these nighttime fathering challenges. You owe it to both mother and baby not to become rattled or angry when your baby resists the comfort you offer.

I really like what Dr. Jay Gordon has to say on this topic in his article Changing The Sleep Pattern in the Family Bed and he’s one of the few that provides good tips for people who are trying to night wean while sharing a family bed. And I love that he reminds us that night weaning is preferable to the other alternative–completely weaning your child:

I have a better alternative to completely weaning or to letting the baby cry it out. Babies wake up for the optimal interaction with their moms, breastfeeding back to sleep. If we offer them a little less than that for a few nights and then a little less and still less in the ensuing nights, gentle behavior modification will lead them to realize that it might not be “worth it” to knock on the door of a closed restaurant, so to speak.

Kellymom has some great resources as well:

Breastfeeding is not an all-or-nothing process. Night weaning is a workable alternative for many moms, and baby continues to receive the many nutritional and immunilogical benefits of breastmilk.

Remember that sleeping through the night is a developmental milestone (like walking or toilet training) that different babies will reach at different times. At some point, your child will sleep through the night – even if you do nothing to encourage it.

Elizabeth Pantley has by far the most extensive information on night weaning in her indispensable book, The No-Cry Sleep Solution for Toddlers and Preschoolers. Pantley focuses on how to teach a baby who has always fallen asleep by nursing to fall asleep with other comforts and associations. She cites toddlers who, like Lily, expect to nurse every time they enter the lightest stage of their sleep cycle (if your child is waking up every 60-90 minutes to nurse, this is what he or she is doing, and I can tell you it’s exhausting!) and then tells you how, using a combination of a special “done nursing” phrase, a change to bedtime routines, a gradual reduction in the duration of night-time nursing, light and dark cues, and the help of another adult.

In order to take the steps to change your child’s sucking-to-sleep association, you must complicate night wakings for a week or even a month. But in the long run you can wean your child from using your breast as his only nighttime association. I wish it were simpler, but you must be prepared to disrupt your own nights for a while to make some important, worthwhile long-term changes.

Dr. James McKenna makes only a passing reference to night weaning in his new book on co-sleeping, Sleeping with your Baby, but he has a few good points about making the breast less available and giving Dad a role in night-time comfort. And his conclusion is gentle and sound advice as always:

Trusting and using your own judgment and experience with your baby is important-and every baby will give you different insights as to what might work best for them and only them. Like the decision to cosleep or bedshare, the decision to wean has to e made carefully and with full attention to the needs of each individual family.

Sometimes, more than research and techniques, you just need to know that other parents have been there and have night weaned gently instead of using cry-it-out techniques. If that’s the case, read this Dad’s story of night weaning his son, or this Mom’s humorous take on what night nursing is like, or if you just want to laugh at my post from last May, when I thought I was going to night wean Lily at age 13 months, what a laugh, and further proof of what sleep deprivation does to your higher faculties. Note that getting Matt involved in the night time soothing did reduce Lily’s nursing, but she wasn’t anything close to night weaned until this fall, despite all my wishful thinking and “plans.”

Oh, incidentally, after raging for some minutes last night, Lily calmed down and went right to sleep when I told her I loved her and that although the “mookie” was sleeping, she could have as much as she wanted in the morning. It seems that she had somehow convinced herself that I was, to borrow a phrase from Gabriel, “never, ever, ever, never” going to let her nurse again. Silly girl! She slept until an hour after sunrise before wandering dreamily into my room for her morning mookie and, although she’s nursed a few times since, I much prefer it to the all-night-diner I was hosting every night.

Tantrums: Not just for the 2-year-old!

I can’t remember if I was blogging yet when Gabriel had the historic tantrum after I told him he could not put raisins and a half-eaten PB&J in the VCR (he was about 14 months old, so it was a while ago), but today we had a tantrum that may replace this one in the record books.

This week was G’s first week back at preschool after an unprecedented 3 weeks of undivided Mommy attention (I was off work), two weeks of undivided Daddy & Grandparent attention, all the craziness of the holidays, and a string of bitter cold & winds that kept us inside for most of that time.  Anyhow, Monday he did great. Matt took him to school, and he ran off with nary a glance back in Matt’s direction.

Tuesday, I took him and he lost his freaking mind. For the first time since his very first month of preschool he screamed and cried and begged me to take him back home with me. It took me about 15 minutes to get him calmed down, but when I came to pick him up, he was a wreck again. Wednesday’s drop-off was similar, so I came to pick him up a bit early (even though Ginger, bless her heart, had called to let me know that he was totally fine and happy 2 seconds after I left!), and spent the next 2 hours trying unsuccessfully to get the child to nap.

He was really happy yesterday & today because he was back with dedicated Mommy time (with the exception of one time when he pretended to pull his “listening ears” off and smash them with his hammer), but still avoided a nap this afternoon, appearing downstairs after 30 minutes of quiet time instead and running circles around me, giggling at full volume, until I was forced to admit that a nap wasn’t going to happen.

The afternoon passed without incident despite the lack of nap. Then it was bedtime. All four of us had been playing upstairs after dinner and we gave Gabriel the five minute warning. He’d already peed, brushed his teeth, and gathered his favorite lovies into his bed, so I thought we were set. Then he started demanding to play with Lily’s doll stroller, but she was absolutely ready for lights out and so was he, so we let him play for a couple of minutes and then I escorted him out so Lily could have her stories with Matt.

At this point, Gabriel lost his sanity. I mean, he screamed, raged, beat on the floor, growled, howled, and clawed for over 30 minutes while I just sat there in his room with him and made sure he didn’t hurt himself (he was throwing things around and I was worried he was going to bash himself with something heavy or barf from all the screaming and crying!). It was frightening, actually. I was in front of his door so he couldn’t get out and “wake Lily up” (as if she could sleep through his screaming!), so he’d run up like he was going to hit me, stop short, and scream something like, “You’re a bad, mean, Mommy!” and run away howling again.

He finally ran out of gas and climbed into bed and it was like somebody flipped a switch. He giggled because in all his tantruming, one of his socks came most of the way off. Then he said, “I love you Mommy, but I wanted to go play with Baby’s stroller.” So I asked if I could come snuggle him in bed and he said, “No, you stay in front of the door or I might try to escape again.” Jeez.

A few minutes later, he got up, picked a story and asked me very politely to read it to him. I did, then I turned the lights out and he went to sleep. So he’s sleeping away, probably dreaming of digging big holes tomorrow (since that’s what I told him we were going to do tomorrow since we have some yard projects we’d like to accomplish) and I’m sitting here blogging, drinking, and trying to calm down.

There are two upsides to this: 1. He didn’t hit me. We’ve been having some hitting issues with him and are working hard on getting him to use his words with us, his sister, and his friends instead of acting out physically. I’m glad to see progress because it just reassures me that taking the gentle approach was better than approaches advocated by a few other people in the past few weeks, and 2. He’ll probably sleep late tomorrow because the tantrum obviously exhausted him.

Wasn’t it just last week that I was commented to someone that I got lucky and avoided the “Terrible Twos”? I guess he’s saving most of it up for age 3…

Scaling back my expectations

When I started back to work part-time in February, I spent a good deal of time beating myself up for wanting to go back to work instead of wanting to spend 24/7 with my children. After two months of chaos as we all adjusted to my new schedule and the new nanny, I finally came up with a routine that seemed to make everyone happy: I worked Tuesday, Wednesday, & Thursday and made sure that I spent most all of Monday and Friday hanging out with the kids (meaning not emailing, trying to get other things done, etc.).

Recently with all the nice weather, we’d even started to do a weekly Friday outing to the zoo, the park, or somewhere else and it was working really well. No more temper tantrums from Gabriel because he wanted so desperately to get my attention, no more sleep issues from Lily (well, except those caused by her pesky molars).

Then, a few weeks ago, our house went under contract yet again and we geared up for the big move. Weekends turned from 100% carefree to packing/organizing insanity and my Monday/Friday play date with my children had to be modified to fit in packing up our entire lives and dividing it into two piles: going to the apartment with us & going into storage.

Today, Gabriel rebelled. The second I picked up the phone (man, moving requires a lot of phone calls, and not just to my Mom to complain about packing 😉 ), he moved into prime 3-year-old-I-make-the-rules mode. Yelling at me to put down the phone. Hitting Lily or shoving her to get my attention. Throwing things at me. Then, finally, hitting me. All of this in the course of 2 5 minute phone calls. I got off the phone as quickly as I could, sat down with G on the couch and explained to him why hitting Mommy and Baby Lily was not OK and he said, “But I don’t want you to talk on the phone.” Fair enough.

I’m trying hard to see all of this as a short-term thing (we should be able to get back to a more normal routine fairly quickly after our move July 20th because we’re not taking that much stuff to the apartment with us, so there shouldn’t be too much unpacking!) and just do the best that I can.  But it’s hard. I don’t want to spend the next three weeks in a constant battle with Gabriel (especially because when he thinks I’m not giving him enough attention, he refuses to use the potty instead of his diaper!) and I’m pretty sure Lily is sick of bearing the brunt of Gabriel’s anger.

Tonight we went to the park after dinner and I’ve been trying to take a break for about 15 minutes of every hour to just purely play with G & L. It was a rough day, but maybe Friday will be better…Right now, I’m sort of looking forward to three “free” days where I can just get things done without feeling like I’m hurting anyone’s feelings…