Friday, January 31, 2014

Foreign Service Fridays: Blogging, the Foreign Service, and "Secrets"

Today on Most Eligible Family I post my response to an article that's been making the rounds among the FS community. What's my "guilty secret" for the week? I miss my husband! I know, I know, shameful. I hope you all have a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Things I Love Thursdays: Secret Garden Coloring Book

This is gonna be a quick post, but I wanted to share a little Christmas gift I got from my sister that has been a lot of fun for the past few weeks. It's a grown-up coloring book called "Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book," and combined with the gel pens I ordered for myself (yes, I'm 13), it's a great way to keep my hands busy while Jack is playing or watching a movie.

Look at all the GLITTER!!!

A work in progress.

I'm saving some of my favorite pictures (generally anything involving owls) until I can do a really great job and possibly frame them. But for now, it's just nice to have something relaxing and mindless to do when I get the time. And if I end up on bed rest again this time around, I know exactly what I'll be doing on the couch!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Things I Love Thursdays: Simple Knit Hat for Baby

One of the things I really wish I'd taken the time to learn properly is how to knit. I can basically knit in a straight line, which comes in handy for making scarves and pretty much nothing else. When I was pregnant with Jack, I half-assed a hat that was pretty cute but incredibly basic, because all you do is knit in a straight line and then fold the thing in half, stitching it up the sides and adding little tassels if you're so inclined (which I was. Duh.).

I was clearly more excited about the hat than Jack was.

For this kid, I thought it might be nice to make something slightly more polished and professional. Then I started looking into patterns and the truth emerged: when it comes to knitting, I'm just damn lazy. I wanted the simplest hat I could find that didn't look like crap. And since I only had a single pair of straight needles here in Montana, and a single ball of yarn, this pattern was right up my alley:

Baby's Flat Hat

My version.

As worn by creepy riding owl.

All you have to do is knit in a straight line, sew up one side, cinch in the top, and finish the look with a pom-pom. It took me a day to make it and I think it came out pretty cute. I also ordered this pom-pom maker from Amazon. Now there's nothing stopping me from adding pom-poms to every baby item that comes down the pike! I bet this kid is gonna LOVE it!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Mommy Mondays: Jack Talk Pretty One Day

It's funny how something can go unnoticed for ages, and then one day someone points it out to you and it becomes impossible to ignore. So has it been with Jack's...unique way of speaking.

If you're a parent, you're probably used to narrating life in third person. We do it to teach a baby his or her name, and also to get the kid going on the whole "Mommy" and "Daddy" thing. So, for example, you might say, "And how is wee little Ermintrude doing this morning? Mommy thinks Baby Ermie is the cutest baby in the whole wide world!" You know, if you were the kind of person to name your child Ermintrude (and who isn't?).

The trouble is, long after wee little Jackie knew his name and was well aware of who these "Mommy" and "Daddy" characters were, we continued to talk about ourselves in the third person. As in, Mommy still does it sometimes. Mommy even thinks about herself in third person occasionally. It's a sickness. So I probably shouldn't be surprised that Jack still refers to himself as Jack. A lot.

To be honest, I didn't even pay much attention to it until our friend Dave arrived at post last April. Dave doesn't have kids, so he immediately noticed Jack's interesting way of talking about himself. And then, once I became aware of the fact that it wasn't exactly normal, I couldn't stop focusing on it. But no matter how many times I correct Jack, he still gets it wrong about a third of the time. Okay, that's being generous. Half the time. Or more.

It turns out there's a term for this: illeism. And apparently it worked out quite well for Salvador Dali and The Rock. But what if your child isn't a world famous painter or a wrestler-turned-B-list actor? How long can Jack get away with this nonsense?

Jack, when he saw this picture: "What's wrong with Jack? Why is Jack yelling?"

To make matters worse, Jack also speaks reeeeeaaally sloooooowly. I didn't notice that either, until we were in Miami in November and John's aunts started referring to Jack as Eeyore. My worst fears were confirmed when we visited our friends Ron and Jaime recently, and Jaime mentioned casually that my kid talks like Ben Stein.

Aside from all that, Jack actually speaks quite well (which is kind of like saying, "My kid's a genius, aside from that low IQ score," isn't it?). But it's a little disconcerting that no matter how many times I try to drill this into Jack's head, he can't quite seem to figure it out. Should I be worried, or is this a passing phase, a la potty training? Because, you know, that wasn't a big deal AT ALL.

On that note, Mommy needs a nap.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Foreign Service Fridays: This is the Foreign Service, Too

This week on Most Eligible Family, I blog a little about how it feels to be back in the U.S., although not entirely at home. Plus there's a super cool link about Lima! Happy Friday all, and don't feel too sorry for John - he's in Greece this weekend.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Things I Love Thursdays: The Warm Fuzzies Jar

Here's another parenting thing I recently discovered that I just love. I came across it on Pinterest, and while - let's face it - I'll never be one of those Pinterest Moms who cuts their kid's food into elaborate shapes or crochets owl hats, this was something even I could manage.

We've tried sticker charts in our house, and they work occasionally, or for a short period of time, but my kid's just not that interested in stickers. Besides, how many sticker charts do we need? One for potty training, one for staying in bed, one for listening, etc. The great thing about this idea is that it's a general "good deed" reward system. Plus it's super duper cute.

What you need:
1 jar
1 package of multi-colored pom poms (aka "warm fuzzies")

That's pretty much it. Your child can decorate their jar with stickers or googly eyes or paint or whatever. We haven't gotten a chance to decorate ours yet (I think that will be a fun project for tomorrow), but here's a little image I spruced up with the Rhonna Designs app (another Thing I Love, by the way).

So far Jack has earned himself three puff balls for general good deeds including pooping on the potty completely by himself (I was actually banned from the bathroom, which was somewhat unsettling), setting the table for dinner tonight, and listening on the first try instead of the eighteenth like usual. Bigger deeds earn bigger fuzzies, so a kid can fill up their jar faster if they really work at it. To be honest, I think the jar I chose may be a little big, so we might draw a line on the side and make that the goal. With a four-year-old, the prize can't be TOO far away, or they lose momentum and interest.

Anyway, I'll let you know how the warm fuzzies jar works out for us, but for now, I'm excited to have one less sticker chart to maintain.  The great thing about these puff balls is that they can be re-used once the jar is filled (or used for future projects). And that right there gives me the warm fuzzies! Huzzah!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Mommy Mondays: How Not to Potty Train Your Child

Disclaimer: This is a post about potty training. It's gonna get, well, messy. If you're not a parent, you probably don't need to read this. But I feel like as a mom, I owe it to the other struggling moms out there to share what finally broke the camel's ass, despite the public humiliation. So, without further ado, here is my anti-training manual. There is one main thing to remember: whatever you do, don't do what I did.

First of all, don't blog about your kid's potty training. You might think it's funny, and it might actually be funny, and you might get some pretty good advice out of it. But you will also be admitting your shame to the world, and since you have no idea when this whole thing is going to resolve itself, you're setting yourself up for more public failure. Better to lie low and let everyone believe poop isn't a major topic in your life. If you've already blogged about it, try to forgive yourself and proceed to step two.

If at some point your child does decide to poop on the potty, don't think that one success means you're home free. It doesn't. It might simply mean that your child accidentally loosened his bowels in the right place at the right time. It might mean he just really wanted that cupcake you bribed him with. It might mean that the moon was full or the tide was right or Mercury was in retrograde. In other words, it means NOTHING. Shortly after I wrote that potty training post (you know, the one I told you not to write), we had a breakthrough that I thought was the beginning of a diaperless world. As we celebrated Jack's accomplishment, I began to write my self-congratulatory blog post in my head. And then it came time for Jack to poop again (like, the next day), and it was as if the previous day had never happened. He simply refused to poop until I gave him another diaper.

And so the cycle continued. Here are some more things that you are welcome to try but which didn't work at all for me: sticker charts, a book about a train made of potties, YouTube videos of cats pooping on toilets (seriously; all this did was confirm that my human child couldn't learn what a freaking cat could master in a matter of days), even cutting a hole in the diaper. At this point in time, you're going to start feeling like you will be changing diapers for the rest of your life. You might even resign yourself to it: "Sure, whatever, I'll just be wiping my grown son's ass for the next 50 years. There are worse things, right?"

DON'T resign yourself to it.

Because you won't really be resigned to it, you'll just accept it for like a week and then have a screaming, crying, flailing meltdown while your preschooler watches you impassively from his porcelain throne (if you can even get him to sit on it, with the lid closed, at this point). 

Another thing not to do: allow things like life to get in the way of potty training. Especially if your life involves monthly transnational flights. Because there will never be a good time for this to happen. All you're doing is perpetuating the cycle of terror. You must do what I should have done from the very beginning: take back the control.

A side note: I've known this entire time that for Jack, refusing to poop on the potty had nothing to do with fear (even though he'd claim he was scared; he also said he was scared of the smoke detector, the ceiling fan, and random things he didn't want to do like eating vegetables, so I called BS on that right quick). This was about control, about clinging to the last vestige of autonomy in a young man's life. After all, if you can't decide where you're going to take a crap, what's left? I got that, and I understood it to some extent. But since I was the one who had to handle another human being's excrement for four years, I figured my preschooler wasn't really in the position to make that decision.

What I didn't do, and should have done months ago, was take away the diapers. Yes, as it turns out, my son can simply refuse to poop for days on end. I had heard horror stories of children making themselves very sick by not pooping, and this was part of the reason I hadn't stuck to my proverbial guns before. I'd cave after two or three days, afraid of what might happen if I didn't hand over a diaper. But when we finally arrived in Montana in early December, I was out of excuses. I was in one place for a few months, I was living in the middle of nowhere with not much else going on in my life, and I had access to first-world medical care. So this time I made a decision: I would simply refuse to allow Jack to turn four without being potty trained. I would stop time if I had to, dammit. This was Mara's last stand!

Something you probably don't need to do, which of course I did, because I'm an idiot, was have a diaper count-down. I lied and said we had seven diapers left, and when they were gone, there would be no more (I may have said they don't have diapers in Montana; my memories of that period are a little fuzzy). Jack took all this in stride, clearly not understanding the reality of the situation. Until D-Day, that is, when shit finally got real.

There were three anxiety-ridden days where Jack didn't poop. Oh, he had to go all right, but he wasn't going to do it on a toilet. In fact, he had his first poop accident ever, and nobody was happy about that. For another two or three days, Jack didn't go. Every time I'd bring up the potty, he'd say he just wasn't going to poop ever again. Sadly, I am well aware of the fact that we do not, and never will, live in a poopless world, so I went to the drug store and got me some back-up.

A suppository. The magic bullet. I didn't want to do it, you understand. It was truly a last resort. But the only thing worse than an almost-four year old crapping in his diaper is one who craps in his pants. I would not have it. So, on the eve of Jack's fourth birthday, I took matters into my own hands. I knew not even my incredibly stubborn child could withstand the power of the magic bullet.

To his credit, Jack fought the good fight for an entire hour (at which point the directions say to seek medical attention, so I was basically on the verge of a heart attack by then). Here's what you shouldn't do after you finally use a suppository: panic. Because if your kid is anything like mine, it won't be pretty. Jack was hysterical, screaming like a dying animal. I seriously thought I may have killed my own child. It might have been the worst hour of my entire life. But my own hysteria didn't actually contribute to the situation. What I probably should have done was just left the bathroom for a while. So, don't be like me. Don't think you've killed your child. You haven't. You've just done what you should have done months ago. Maybe even years if you're one of those poor moms of a seven-year-old who isn't toilet trained (yes, these people exist, and they have my undying sympathy).

In the several weeks since that fateful day, there have been some hiccups and snafus. I'm not going to go into some of them because even I don't need to humiliate myself that much. But as of today, I am happy to report that my child is pooping on the potty like a champ (or like a damned cat; seriously, why was this such a big freaking deal?). And even though all of you know the truth, I will happily bend it for the next stranger who asks me when my child was potty-trained: "He was three, thank you very much."

At least now I know what NOT to do for the next kid. And I suppose there's something to be said for that.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Things I Love Thursdays: OK To Wake! Owl

Okay, so this isn't the most exciting "Thing I Love" of all time, but as a preggo mommy who is already sleep deprived, it's been a life saver. As you know, we've been traveling a lot, and that's meant a lot of disruptions in Jack's sleep schedule. He gave up napping at some point in the last two months, which sucks, but hey, we made it four years. I guess I should be grateful. And then Jack decided it would be fun to start waking up several times a night, every night, and coming into my room to wake me up. Turns out we have very different ideas of fun. I needed something to keep him in bed that was both effective and humane, and I'd been thinking of one of those child alarm clocks for a long time. Then I came across the OK To Wake! Owl on Amazon.

The OK To Wake! Owl

Basically, it's like an alarm clock for your kid, but it doesn't wake them up. It just keeps them in bed. If they press his tummy before the designated time (as determined by a parental unit and programmed into the back of the owl), the owl tells them it's not time to get up yet and glows yellow, then plays soothing music for 5, 15, or 30 minutes (your choice). If they press his tummy after the designated wake up time (7:30 a.m. for us), he glows green and tells your kid it's okay to wake up now. Simple, yet surprisingly effective. And unlike an alarm clock, it won't wake them up automatically. If they sleep past the wake time, nothing happens until they wake up and press the button. Brilliant!

Jack named his owl "John Alex" (I think this had something to do with his new John Deere ride-on tractor and the fact that he has a cousin named Alex) and he LOVES him. The owl is bigger than you'd think and pretty cute, so I figure it's extra value for the money, since it basically serves as a stuffed animal. The other alarm clocks for kids aren't cheap, and John Alex is available for $25 on Amazon. It took one time of Jack waking up in the middle of the night and me reminding him to push John Alex's tummy to see if it was time to get up yet for Jack to get the hang of it. It's really dark in the mornings here in Montana so I think that was causing some of the confusion. Since John Alex came into our life a couple weeks ago, Jack has stayed in bed all night every night for the most part, and I've gotten some much-needed sleep. And hey, there's even a special nap alarm if your kid is still napping (you lucky dog, you).

So there's my free parenting tip of the week! Now let's see what happens when we add a screaming infant into the equation...

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

In The Moment

Some of you may recall a post I wrote earlier this year about Jack's foray into the world of Russian preschool, and how he didn't exactly fit in. At the time, I blamed some of his disobedience on the fact that the teacher was speaking in Russian, but over the past few months, it's come to my attention that Jack is very good at ignoring directions in English too.

We enrolled Jack in the local preschool here in Red Lodge, Montana, for the few months we're here so that Jack could do a little catching up after missing a year of schooling and so that I could have a little me-time to preserve my sanity. He's only been to school about six or seven times so far because of the holidays and what-not, so when his teacher announced last week that the kids would be having their holiday performance on January 6th, I was a little concerned. After all, how much time could Jack possibly have had to practice? Heck, even if he'd been practicing for months, I figured the odds of him following directions were slim to none.

Still, John and I dutifully showed up at the local Boys and Girls Club last night along with the other parents, feeling fairly out of place ourselves since the only people we knew were Jack's teacher and the local pediatrician. I quickly noted that I needed to get Jack a pair of cowboy boots and that I wasn't wearing nearly enough fleece. Eventually, the teachers managed to wrangle all the kids and the performance began.

The kids were divided into two groups by age, Jack being in the younger group. The little kids were supposed to stay in the aisle with their teacher while the big kids lined up in front. I think you can see from this photo what happened.

Whose kid is that on the right? The lack of discipline is truly appalling. Oh, wait...

So yeah, basically Jack decided he was going to ring a bell right along with the older kids. For about three songs. But you know, ringing the bell wasn't really enough for Jack. Clearly what this performance needed was a little dancing...

Yeesh. I thought this was bad, until Jack started running around behind the other kids and even decided to throw a little basketball into the mix. Then there was his own class's performance, which went in roughly the same manner. Our kid was literally the only kid who didn't do exactly what all the other kids were doing. It was hilarious and humiliating at the same time. Part of me wanted to yell, "It's not his fault! We've been living in Siberia for the past year and a half!" (Even though the rest of me kind of knew that probably didn't have anything to do with it.) In the end, there was really nothing to do but hug our kid and tell him what a great job he'd done. Sure, he didn't follow the directions or listen to his teachers (or obey my frantic gestures to get his ass over with his classmates), but by golly he had fun. And frankly, the performance was a little dull.

A little post-performance snack. After all, show business is hard work.

As someone who has had social anxiety for as long as I can remember, it's something of a miracle to me that my kid seems to have no inhibitions whatsoever. In fact, it's one of the things I love most about him. Yes, we need to work on his listening skills just a smidge, but I hope he never loses his ability to live in the moment. Frankly, it's something I could stand to do a little more often. That's why for 2014, I didn't make a list of resolutions like I normally do. Most of the things I want to achieve or hope will happen are completely out of my control anyway.

Kind of like Jack.

Jack's New Year's resolution for 2014: eat more cookies.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Foreign Service Fridays: It's Complicated

Here's today's Most Eligible Family post, in which I try to figure out where we're going to live this year. As the title suggests, it's not nearly as simple as I'd like it to be. Happy Friday everyone!