Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Sleep Training - Round One!

Day 5 - Nap Time - Time it took for him to go down: 35 Min. 

Entering motherhood has really opened my eyes to the judgmental world of parenting. It's competitive, self righteous, and ugly!! We are all very different parents, and guess what? So are our kids! Don't get me wrong, I have an amazing circle of supportive and loving momma bears, but when it comes to internet advice, people get nasty! There is no right or wrong way to sleep train, but by golly these 'experts' sure act like there is. None of us need to feel like jerks for doing what works for our family. Whether you co-sleep, cry it out, or take the gentle approach, that is your life, and a parent should never be made to feel like they have to defend themselves on these decisions. I am no professional parent, psychologist, or pediatrician, but I have successfully sleep trained 4 babies in a mere 5 months (I'm still working on my little four month tough guy) and that's something to be proud of.  Every single child has taken a different approach and I work with them on finding the perfect solution to make us all happy.  I want my kids to sleep well and on schedule. I think it is beneficial for everyone in my home, not everyone on the internet world. I don't need to worry about them, and you don't either.

I will be doing a series of posts on sleep training with different gentle techniques that have worked for me. Did you get that part? They worked for ME. I have read every book, forum, and blog on sleep training and I highly recommend parents do the same. Taking a combination of techniques and tweaking them to work with your child's needs can be incredibly beneficial.

I want to make it very clear that crying is and will always be a part of sleep training. Yes, I have read the books that make false promises on no crying, but let me keep this as simple as possible: there will be some crying, so don't think that you are failing. Failure very quickly seeps into your mind during sleep training, and it is totally natural to want to throw in the towel, but stay strong and consistent!  Put it like this, if your kid wasn't crying at bedtime, you wouldn't need help! I think there is a major misconception on nighttime crying, and I would like to do my best to squash all of the negativity associated with it. Bouts of crying during sleep training and leaving your baby alone for an hour to cry themselves to sleep ARE TOTALLY DIFFERENT!!!!

Technique #1:

We'll start backwards b/c its so fresh in my mind. Four days ago we were placed with an 18 month old boy. Like all of my other babies, he is absolutely beautiful, but this one came with some very heavy baggage. He immediately exhibited severe attachment and anxiety issues. He will not allow anyone to be near him other than me, and screams if I am out of sight. I can not use the restroom, walk around a corner, or take a shower without a full blown meltdown. This will all get better in time, but my biggest fear right off the bat was bedtime. Little J is my most emotionally fragile child, but I had no clue that sleep training would happen so quickly. It's still up in the air on who is more awesome, him for getting the routine, or me for getting him down so quickly without a fight..but we don't REALLY need a winner on that one, b/c we're both feeling pretty high and mighty about it!

I always read to my babes before bed as the last step in our bedtime routine*, but I made a few changes with baby J. I think it was just some weird intuition speaking on this one.

Step One: Go through your usual bedtime routine - hold baby in you lap, rocking, and reading
Step Two: Halfway though reading time lay the baby in his bed and quickly get back to the book and continue reading
Step Three: Baby will freak out! Get up from your chair and lay him back down and again quickly get to your chair and attempt to continue reading
Step Four: Repeat this process anywhere from 5-20 times, make it seem as if you are frustrated that YOU can't finish reading the book! Make sure that you cover the baby with his blanket, give his lovie or stuffed animal, and say sweet things like:

"Can we finish reading the story and find out what happens?"
"Do you not like this book? I really want to finish it"
"What is <charactor name> going to do next??

Divert the attention from baby being upset about being in bed to the book you both are supposed to be engrossed in. It you are upset about your baby crying, or if you are constantly consoling him about being upset, it's just going to perpetuate the issue. Make it about you and your desire to do something with him (read the book).

Let's go back to the 5-20 times in step four. Just prepare yourself for that daunting 20! It may only be a couple of times and honestly it may be much more, but by consistently and lovingly laying your baby back down to indicate'night night' he will eventually not just give up, but understand that you are both in this together. Surprisingly my little J was sleeping like a champ at 7:30pm on the dot 3 nights in. Once he laid down his head for good I continued to read until I thought he was fully asleep. The first two nights he quickly got up in protest the second I got to the door, so I repeated the process all over again (don't worry this second or sometimes third round usually doesn't take long).

No matter what technique you are using, know that every night gets better and faster. The first week can be hell, but once you get to that magical place of a smooth night time, your life will improve tenfold and baby will know that you have been there for him every step of the way.

Even though baby J got this routine down in 3 days, this is not common, but I do feel like my confidence in sleep training is very beneficial. There are many ways that us grown ups can break during the first very crucial week and it can be detrimental to all of your hard work. I will discuss this more on other sleep training posts, but just remember that your baby is secure, loved, and happy, and you are doing a great job. Teaching your little fragile one to sleep on his own can be taxing emotionally and physically, but there is always a light at the end of the tunnel and your nighttime freedom is right around the corner!

You may be asking, "how long is this going to take?" "Do I need to sit there and read for an hour?" That is up to you. There are several variations on ways that you can still be comforting your babe in bed without reading the entire time. Nap times are in my experience a lot more work. Today at nap it took about 20+ times of laying little J back down with his blanket. We read for about 10 minutes before I put him down and sat back down to finish this post. I was 2 feet away from him, but not giving him attention, just loving him and comforting him with my presence. Today took about 35 minutes....a huge leap from an hour 5 days ago! You can leave the room if you choose more of a crying out method (or if you need to go to the bathroom, tend to another child, etc.), but make sure that you are returning often to comfort, you can at stand at the doorway, sit on the floor with your back to baby, sit in the rocking chair, etc. I may suggest bringing in your laptop, phone, or a book to keep you busy.

Just remember that every day gets easier and quicker, but you have to put in the time and effort to get there! Make sure that whatever method you chose you are sticking with it. Deciding to rock your baby to sleep one night, then switching to reading in bed, then switching to carrying him around the house is a recipe for disaster. You little on craves consistency and needs to know how their day will pan out (consistency and schedules also reduce tantrums).

Be brave mama and papa bears, you got do this!!!

*The last hour before bed is essential, make sure that you can carve out a tight and consistent schedule for their bedtime.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Bags & Backpacks for Your Littles

I'm pretty sure that every expecting mom registers for a baby bag, and as much as my mommy friends insisted I NEEDED one, I just couldn't get on board. They are massive, bulky, unattractive, and quite frankly unnecessary. I just didn't want or need one, and after 2 newborns, 3 babies under one, and a toddler, my decision stands firm.  Maybe it's just me, but I never saw myself as the mom that packed everything but the kitchen sink for a trip to the grocery store. I think we live in an age of being over prepared for everything and buying excessively, and I have always preferred the minimal life. I bought a MamaRoo because quite frankly a baby swing is a must have item, but I don't think that my babies need multiple  "baby stations."  My point is don't think that you HAVE to have everything BuyBuyBaby recommends.  Go with your gut (and style) and remember that mommas have raised babies without activity saucers, jumperoos. light up play gyms, and vibrating chairs for generations. 

Wait weren't we talking about bags?? 

I have been using a simple camo green toddler backpack for all of my babes and it works just great. I keep a pack of wipes in the car ALWAYS, and only need to pack bottles, a change of clothes, snacks, and diapers. But since we are raising kiddos in foster care and have weekly visitations, one bag was just not cutting it. Using one bag and rotating everything out for every visit and my own personal use was just plain stupid and taxing on my already chaotic mind.  I needed more bags and have been on the hunt for stylish sacks for my babes (and myself). There is a world of wonderment outside of the Kate Spade baby bag with a built in changing pad, personal massage therapist, pacifier wipe pocket, and wine glass nook inside of the fifteenth pocket. Get my point? It's just too much!

My favorite finds:


                                           Indie Nook Totes (Several Other Styles Available) $10
                    Totes are great for visitations b/c you only need to pack the necessary items for 2 hours. 

Echino Toddler Backpack - Weepereas - $45

Reusable Lunch Bags by OhLittleRabbit $16
Great for packing lunch or a bottle set up

                                               Shinzi Katoh Insulated Lunch Bag - $27.50


Insanely cute toddler backpacks by SWANKAROO $37
These sell out fast! Follow swankaroo on Instagram for updates on inventory.

Bunny Backpack - My Sweet Muffin $27.50

Herschel Settlement Kid's Backpack - My Sweet Muffin $39.95

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Foster Care/Adoption Home Study: What to Expect

Even when you DON'T have skeletons in your closet, a home study can be daunting.

How personal will the questions be?
Are they going to ask us about our arguments? Past relationships?
My family and friends?
Are they going to search my closets, dressers, and cabinets?

Just assume the answer is yes to all of these. The truth is, if you are hoping to foster or adopt you shouldn't have to worry about who YOU are or what you've done. You don't have to be perfect, and you wouldn't even be at this point without a thorough background check, FBI fingerprints, and extensive reference check. So who cares if you were a wild child 15 years ago?? The only thing that you have to do is be honest and let your personality come out. Just like a job interview, no one is interested in rehersed, picture perfect answers. You also need to prepare for anywhere between 3-5 hours and have your home prepped to the max (I'll explain).

This is a general list of the questions we were asked:

Income and job history - I will admit I was not prepared to list the dates of EVERY single job that I have had since I was 15

Household budgeting & bills

How you intend on disciplining your children

How your parents disciplined you, as well as detailed questions regarding your childhood, your relationships with your siblings then and now, and your parent's marriage

Your religious views & how you intend on catering to a child from a different religion

Past relationships - my husband and I were interviewed separately during this portion. Be honest about your exes, why you broke up, issues in the relationship, etc.

What you and your partner agree on and argue about

How you resolve arguments

Things that you do in your free time, hobbies, etc.

Your children will also be interviewed separately, but this did not apply to us

Most of the personal questions were very basic and nothing came up that was surprising.

Home Inspection:

Prepare for a detailed tour of the home including opening cabinets & closets, and walking though the checklist of child safety preparation

Having your home prepped to the max -guidelines will vary from state to state, but this is what was required for us:

All chemicals were out of reach (I believe it's 5 ft off the ground) or kept in a magnetic locked cabinet. You are more than likely going to need 4 of these locks (or 2 sets).  If you have double doors under your sink (where most of us keep our cleaning supplies), you can not have just one door locked, even if the chemicals are only on one side. All medications must be kept in a locked cabinet as well.  Again every state has different guild lines, but in Texas you can not have chemicals & medication behind ANY lock that is not magnetic. Your agency will provide you with a detailed list of what is needed....follow it to a T!

All prescriptions must be under double lock. Even though we did not have kids in our home at the time, nor have we had any kids on meds, it is required to have a lock box in the refrigerator and another lock box inside of a magnetic locked cabinet at all times. Luckily we had 2 small luggage locks, a small toolbox and jar around the house that worked. Really anything that can be locked is acceptable, so check your house before buying anything.

Magnetis locks-There is a great deal from Toy's R Us for an 8 piece set for $23.99. Most sets of 2 are around $12.

This is what we used for prescriptions:

Locked toolbox is under the bathroom sink (with magnet locks) along with 
all of our other over the counter meds.

Jar is locked, empty, & kept in the fridge at ALL times!

All bookcases must be secured to the wall - don't forget to buy some anchors!

Sliding glass doors must have some sort of sticker or decal so that a small child does not run into it thinking it may be open - kinda strange and this was not on our list, so I just taped some flashcards up and called it a day. I'm sure you could find something a little more attractive on Etsy.

There's a whole set of rules for staircases (which we do not have) but I'm pretty sure gates are needed at the top and bottom.

Your agency will provide you with a list of 'must be locked' items including diaper rash cream, neosporin, and any other liquid that could be harmful if swallowed.

Mounted fire extinguisher in or next to the kitchen (weight will vary by state) and  emergency escape plans posted above the extinguisher and in all bedrooms. I can't remember if this was checked during the home study, but was required on our fire inspection.

All beds must have a mattress protector and a baby monitor was required for kids under 2

We were also required to have a fire inspection ($150 every 2 years) and a health inspection (free!). These were both very simple.

Fire- mounted extinguisher check, testing smoke detectors (needed in every room and living area), no furniture blocking the windows and a few other things that were so basic they weren't even mentioned by the inspector

Health - Also pretty basic, checking your refrigerator and pantry (no wild game jerky drying in the closet people!), running water hot & cold, stickers on the sliding door, family pet vaccine records, water heater, and checking beds & living areas (including space for child's possessions).

Since you will have months to prepare, start your thrift shopping now!! If you are going to be brand new parents the prep is crazy!  Check thrift stores, craigslist, & ebay for good deals. You are most likely going to have an age range that you are open to (and if you are open to all ages, God bless you!) so start a stockpile of goods ASAP. Anytime you see something on sale.....formula, underwear, socks, baby food, diapers, sippy cups, bottles, etc, BUT IT! Yes, I have preemie diapers and Hello Kitty underwear collecting dust in the closet, but they will eventually get used and I got them cheap!

If you have any other specific questions or concerns, please ask away. I am happy to help!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Gifts for Baby - Celebrating a half birthday

Even though we have had 5 kids, our four month old is truly our 'first baby.' We have been through the trenches with him, and for the first time as parents we are watching a baby grow and reach all of the exciting milestones. He came to us by accident, but obviously it was so much more than that. On the day our first baby was leaving (we had already said goodbye to our 10 month old 2 days prior) I prayed ALL DAY LONG for our phone to ring. My friends kept saying that I should just enjoy a break, but I couldn't fathom a quiet house without a baby. 4 hours before our little girl was scheduled for pickup, the phone rang. There was a 6 day old baby boy available...were we interested??? At the time we were only on the call list for girls (quite frankly, the thought of preparing for both sexes 0-4 years overwhelmed me) and this little babe was from a different county (kids are ALWAYS placed in the same city). So CPS made a mistake, and so did our agency, but we couldn't have been happier. Our little bundle was so beautiful, but I had no clue what I was in for. He had sleeping, eating, and breathing issues and was up all night. At the time I had no information regarding the circumstances of his traumatic birth or that he was born premature. Unfortunately in foster care this 'important' information is not always relayed, and sometimes considered none of your business. His first 2 months were total chaos. There were so many times when I thought I was going to lose it, I had no idea how to make him happy or content. I felt like such a crappy momma. I worked the 5 S's around the clock, never slept, and was just a hot mess.

The joy of parenthood isn't all about the smiles, giggles, & love, it's about being tougher than you ever thought was possible. It's about pouring your heart & soul into a kid, even though you just want to crawl up into bed for a month. It's an exhausting and beautiful job!

In the last month we have seen a total turn around, he is such a happy little guy and is finally sleeping more than 2-3 hours, we've even had a couple of 7 hour stretches. He is absolutely perfect and has brought so much joy into our lives. Although in our hearts he is "our baby," his permanency is still in limbo and it looks like the fight will continue til the very end. All bio parents have at least one year to work their services (I will post on this soon), so it's going to be a long road!  Because we have no idea what the future holds, we want to celebrate everything with him. I have started planning a very happy half birthday party and I can't stop buying him gifts!

Shopping on the the internet is so much fun these days!  There are so many great shops and too many awesome options out there (it took me 2 hours to decide on a custom boppy cover on Etsy). Needless to say,  I am definitively going overboard. One of the perks of foster care is you can justify buying some pricier items, b/c you could potentially have babies in your house for years and years. But to save a little dough, I have started following my favorite shops on Instagram and there are always sales posted with 10-25% savings, which helps justify my spending!

Here's what our little prince is getting so far:

Snagged with an IG 20% Promo Code 

Sale posted on IG - Leggings $11 & Beanie $6

I'm still a little torn on his stuffed animal and with the way things are going, I may just get all of them. I can't help but spoil him rotten!! But my thrifty self may just wait for the first shop that has a sale. 

They do not have an IG, but sometimes post PROMOCODE savings on their blog 

Mr.Fox by Maileg -A Little Bundle $33
This shop always has promo codes on their IG 

Babe's First Camera by PlanToys - A Little Bundle  $15
I have been extremely cautious about where my kid's toys are coming from/made of and I am so impressed with this company. More awesome toys here! 

Great Books for your Littles

As a new mom, I am constantly on the hunt for fabulous books for my babes. My mom was an avid book collector and I inherited about 200 baby books from her, but now that I am reading 5+ a day, I have noticed a massive influx in the donation pile. I absolutely adore the classics like Goodnight Moon (great for 'last call' sleep training), Eric Carle, The Carrot Seed, etc. but there are a ton of terrible reads out there!! Some have awful morals, boring story lines, or no story at all, and it's pretty frustrating to think that all of this junk is getting published.  I'm not going to name any names, but that one mousy ballerina is a little snot!

I will spare you from the baby book trash talk and focus on some must have finds for the new generation of readers. 

Art Books:

Petit Connoisseur: Art - Karen Salmansohn

Andy Warhol's Colors - Susan Goldman Rubin

Learning Colors, Numbers, & Animals:

Classic Lit:

Must have books from Jennifer Adams

Just too cute:

I will always be a sucker for Moonbear's adventures by Frank Asch

Mama's & Papa's- your baby loves looking at pictures, but she also loves to hear you talk. It is NEVER too early to start reading chapter books to your little ones. One of my babes (10 months) loved it and every night we read Harry Potter. No, she didn't get the story line or remember the characters, but she was getting at least 20 minutes of calm bonding time. If your little one does not like bedtime, but loves reading, take it up a notch with a big kid book. It's a great way to wind down those busy bodies!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Life as a Foster Parent - Five Months, Five Babies & I'm Still Breathing!

It's been a crazy few months over here on the Arnold homestead. After 2 years of trying for a baby, we finally decided to throw in the towel and dive into our plan b.....foster care! We took all of our classes last summer, baby proofed everything, went through a home study (post to follow on what to expect), inspections, FBI fingerprints, buying furniture, car seats...the whole nine yards, and had our first baby 2 weeks after certification. She was two days old and absolutely perfect. Adoption immediately looked hopeful, but we quickly learned to NEVER put all of our eggs in that basket. When a child is in foster care, the case workers will check every nook, cranny, and under every rock in search of family members to take temporary custody (this is called kinship care). Seven weeks later we said goodbye to our first little love 'Lu'.  In a short 5 months, we have had 5 babies under our roof (typically 2 at a time). 

It went a little something like this:

Newborn girl - Almost 7 weeks
10 month old girl - 6 weeks
Newborn boy - Still in our care - he's almost 4 months!
6 month old boy - About 5 weeks 
10 month old boy - Almost 4 weeks

*We are open to kids up to 4 years, but have never had a baby over 1

Can you keep up?? I had no clue that the turnover would be so fast on the majority of our kids, and I'm not even sure if this is typical (we were told in training that an average placement is 6-7 months). It has been such a joy loving all of my little munchkins, but very short term care has it's hardships. Most kids in foster care have had no schedule and extremely poor eating habits.   It can take weeks to get a wild baby sleep trained and accustomed to healthy homemade food, and the second you are high-fiving yourself on your successes, the call comes that kinship has been approved. These 'quickie placements' can turn your world into a wild circus of exhaustion because your home is never fully in a routine.  I have never been more drained or fulfilled in my entire life. This is truly my calling, and as much as I would love one morning to sleep in (babysitters aren't knocking down your door when a background check & fingerprints are required), I wouldn't trade this crazy life for anything.  I have learned so much, from detoxing babies to making parents feel at ease during visits. I have also made some mistakes, mostly learning to watch my tongue and not ask TOO many questions.

I am going to start posting all kinds of tricks of the trade that I have learned in such a quick time. Renegade parenting anyone?? I hope that I can shed some light on everything from what to expect during visitations, initial placement, getting certified, building relationships with CPS and the parents, as well as sleep training tips, weening kids off junk food, detoxing, and small things foster parents can do to provide security for these little broken birds. And of course my usual recipes & crafting, and now cloth diapering tips (YES, I am converted and there's no turning back). 

So welcome or welcome back to my new little nook. I'm still pretty much the same, just sleep deprived and covered in spit up now!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Kitchen Obsession

When you love to cook, but live in a condo with a kitchen the size of a closet, all you can do is obsess over beautiful photos and dream....