Over the past year and a half, C and I have amassed quite a library of books for anxious toddlers. A few of them are great, but most of them were less than unhelpful. Some of the better-known books (like the Invisible String, for example) are aimed at older kids. Overall, it’s pretty slim pickins out there, lemme tell ya.
I debated whether or not to review each book in its own post – I think each book deserves a few words to explain the rating. It seems, though, like it would be too hard for people to wade through individual posts. Instead, I’ll break it up into a few different posts and review six at a time.
The star ratings aren’t so much about the quality of the book, but more about its appropriateness for this age group (1.5 -2.5 years).
When Mama Comes Home Tonight, by Eileen Spinelli & Jane Dyer.
Topic: Separation Anxiety. 5/5 stars. Ages 2+
This book is fantastic. The book starts with, “When Mama comes home tonight, dear child, when mama comes home tonight, she’ll cover you with kisses. She’ll hug you sweet and tight.” The book talks about all of the wonderful things Mama will do when she gets home from work. I love that it reinforces the idea of a routine and helps a child know what to expect. In fact, I love every single thing about it – a must for working moms! Side note: the inscription from the illustrator makes me cry.
The Kissing Hand, by Audrey Penn.
Topic: Separation Anxiety/School. 2/5 stars. Ages 3.5+
While the idea behind this book is great (Mama gives her baby a kiss on his hand, which stays with him all day), it’s just too complicated for little kids. There are too many words, and the concept of a nocturnal animal is something for older kids. I had to paraphrase a LOT with this book so that C could understand it, which made it hard for me to read. I don’t think C found the story very helpful.
Llama Llama Misses Mama, by Anna Dewdney
Topic: Separation Anxiety/School. 4/5 stars. Ages 2+
I love the Llama Llama books – they’re so fun to read! C understood this book – which is about starting school and missing Mama - a little before age 2. It helped her process her BIG feelings about going to school. I first realized how the book made her feel when she started ripping it apart (this one and “Owl Babies” both got torn up), which made it good for talking about “big feelings.” Though there are a lot of words (the only reason I’m not giving it 5 stars), I think the pictures help illustrate what’s going on. Poor little Llama looks really sad.
The Invisible String, by Patrice Karst
Topic: Separation Anxiety/Divorce/Death/ Fear of Being Alone. 2/5 stars. Ages 3-4+
This book is very well known and is often recommended for kids experiencing divorce. The book is about twins who wake up in the middle of the night because of thunder. They want to be with their mom, who explains, “even though we’re apart, our hearts are always connected by an invisible string.” It’s a great concept. Like the Kissing Hand, though, it’s too advanced for little kids. C didn’t know what “invisible” meant when she was 2, and even the concept of twins is a bit much. There are too many words for toddlers.
Little Monkey’s One Safe Place, by Richard Edwards
Topic: Trust in parental figure. 3/5 stars. Ages 2+
Little Monkey is asleep by himself when a storm wakes him up and scares him. He finds his Mom, who tells him that he always has “one safe place.” He spends the book trying to find his “one safe place,” and at the end the reader discovers his one safe place is in Mommy’s arms. The concept itself is good, but I’m not sure how I feel about Little Monkey having only one safe place. Parts of the book were a little scary too (the places he looks are scary, with a crocodile in one place and scary eyes in another). C understood this book, but I don’t know if it made her feel any better. I will say, though, that it helped her talk about how scared she felt all the time.
Hug, by Jez Alborough
Topic: Separation Anxiety. 4/5 stars. Ages 18 months+
This book has only three words: Hug, Mama and Bobo. The entire story is told with pictures, which makes it ideal for younger kids. The book follows Bobo the monkey as he looks through the jungle trying to find his mom. He sees all the other animals giving hugs to their babies, and he really wants his mommy. This book was really hard for me, because it covers a topic that I had a lot of fear about as a child and I know C does too: not being able to find your mother. As the story goes on, Bobo gets more and more panicky and sad, and is so relieved when he finds his mom. The book brings up feelings, so it’s good to talk about them (“Sometimes little kids are scared when they don’t know where their mommies are, but Mommy is always there. Mommies always come back”). I admit to being a little uncomfortable with how long it takes Bobo to find his mommy, and there’s no real explanation for why she was so hard to find, which seems kind of scary (this is why I knocked off a star).Comment
June 13, 2013 in Miscellaneous Ramblings
A few weeks ago my friend Reichel and I were wandering around the antiques fair when she made a confession: she is a little disappointed by how much my design style has changed. When I decorated my condo (obviously no longer my condo) I used a lot of bright colors. My wedding was really bright too. Lots of color isn’t Reichel’s style, so she lived vicariously through me.
Now I am into antique furniture and earth tones. My days of teal living rooms and orange kitchens feel like they’re from an entirely different life. Every room in my house is painted with a calm shade, and all of my furniture is a warm, aged brown. This was kind of a hard transition to make, even for me (I’ve honestly never agonized over paint colors before – how are there so many different shades of brown?!), but I feel at peace in my home now.
I've been thinking about it a lot, and I suddenly realized that it’s not just my design sense that’s changed.I feel like a completely different person now. I’ve done a lot of personal work over the past couple of years, and as a result, I’m a more peaceful person. I no longer look to other people for approval. I’m more confident in my decisions. I no longer let other people make my decisions. In short, I’ve taken command of my life and I have become more of myself. I am far, far happier than I used to be.
It’s kind of strange to be blogging again, as this different person. I’m not sure what any of my readers expect at this point (though it feels a little arrogant to think you guys expect anything at all). But it’s not going to be the same as it was before. I’ll show you C’s room, but it ain’t gonna be no Big City Livin’ Big Girl room. C will likely never have another big birthday party (and not just because she would hateit—which she would—but because the idea of planning something like that exhausts me).
I have a whole long list of topics I want to write about and share with you guys, but every time I write something I get paranoid: “do I sound like a know-it-all?” or “will anyone even be interested in this?!” I have about 16 half-written blog posts.
To quell my paranoia, I think I need to make something clear before I go on: it’s going to be different now. In addition to having different interests, I am not able to be as open as I used to be. My current situation doesn’t allow me to talk about my struggles like I used to. And because being open is part of who I am, learning not to talk about those things is hard for me.
My other option, though, is to stay silent. And I really don’t want to do that. So let me just say, for once, that I am not perfect. But I won’t be able to give you real-life examples of the struggles that make me a very real person (which I am).
So instead of being silent, I’m going to share what has worked for me. I hope it never comes across as preachy, know-it-all-y, or boring. It will be different than it was before, but I hope you won’t mind.
Okay, I’m going to stop talking, and “start doing” now. :)Comment
Parenthood is more of a learning experience than I ever could have imagined. There’s no instruction manual, no road map. It’s like being thrown off a cliff into the ocean, and being told that you not only have to learn how to swim, you have to figure out how to build a boat with a stick and a rubber band. In many cases, there are two of you. But whether you’re alone, have a partner, or have a whole village of help, you’re in for a sink-or-swim education—and sinking isn’t an option.
One of the most surprising things I learned was apparent from the first week: human nature is so much more “nature” than I ever thought. Children are vastly different from one another, and while we as parents can help teach them how to function in the world, we can’t change who they are at their core. Did the people who came up with the “tabula rasa” theory spend any time with kids? Because that idea is ludicrous to me.
My experience as C’s mom has been vastly different than the experience of any other parent I know. On some level I’m still convinced that babies who slept through the night at three weeks are aliens, but I can admit (reluctantly) that it’s more likely a difference in temperament.
There’s no instruction manual for kids, but knowing your child’s temperament can really help you parent. I strongly believe that every child should be parented with empathy and sensitivity to his or her individual needs. Learning about your kid’s temperament can help you understand what your child’s needs are.
My first introduction to child temperament came early on. Desperate to figure out how to get C to sleep, I read a book by The Baby Whisperer, which grouped babies into four personality types. C definitely had some more cautious characteristics as a baby, but those were outshined by some other, more “spirited” qualities. For example, she was constantly throwing things off the changing table, and was very vocal about her opinions. Given her temperament, it was apparently no surprise that she had no desire to sleep.
As she inched closer to the one-year mark, though, things started to change. As her understanding of the world around her increased, she became much more careful. She was afraid of strangers and was so attached to me that any separation led to hysterics. So while her reaction to starting daycare was a lot worse than I expected, I can’t say it surprised me.
When I first thought about getting C help during our hideous daycare experience, my first call was to my HMO. They had a child temperament specialist on hand, who taught me a lot about C’s specific needs.
The specialist referred me to a website called The Preventative Ounce, which offers an in-depth quiz to figure out a kid’s temperament. The results are not only fascinating, but helpful, too: they provide hints about how to help your child interact with the world. It costs $10 and was totally worth it (just to clarify, I have no association with this site).
After learning more about C, the specialist said that her reaction to daycare was totally normal given her temperament, and explained why a nanny was a better solution for us. Every child has their personal challenges, and for C one of those challenges is a high level of stress in new situations. This is part of her inborn temperament, as is shyness. While no one knows the future for certain, C will probably have to deal with these challenges for the rest of her life (temperament is considered an innate part of a person’s personality). This is part of the reason I want to teach her coping skills early on.
When C and I have play dates with other kids, I am always fascinated by how different she is from the other kids. Some of them really push boundaries, or are really active (climbing on tables, for example). Every parent has a different challenge.
Personally, my job as a parent requires a lot of mindfulness. I phrase things a certain way because C picks up on everything, and I have to encourage her to share her feelings, because she tends to keep them to herself (especially with people she doesn’t feel comfortable around).
But honestly, I feel like I won the parenting lottery in a lot of ways—C is a lot like me, so relating to her is intuitive for me. And there are so many positives to having a sensitive kid. For one, she is incredibly kind – she comforts other kids when they’re upset. Hearing that from her school warms my heart, let me tell you. I just adore that kid.
So what about you guys? Even if this is the first time you’re hearing about temperament, you’ve probably noticed aspects of your kid’s personality that are more “nature” than “nurture.” What are your thoughts?Comment
I want to begin writing again, but I will confess that I am beginning with some trepidation. Figuring out how to begin this story has been very difficult. I mentally crumpled up draft after draft and threw them in the digital waste bin, unable to properly articulate what C and I have been through. Re-reading this, there’s so much I have had to leave out about my personal experience—my divorce has been shockingly dramatic at times, to say the least — but I really think it’s for the best.
This will likely be the only post where I discuss C’s experience in detail. There is a very fine line between too little and too much information. I hope I have managed it well.
In January of 2012, I left my husband of five years. Out of respect for both his privacy and my daughter, I will not go into great detail about the reasons I left, but the important piece is this: Everything C knew of life, from the womb up until the day we left, was tension and anxiety. Any time I think of what C's life must have been like, I think of our poor dog, who lived much of her life with her tail between her legs.
C held it together through the upheaval surrounding our separation, even though it included a lot of change. She and I traveled to Oregon to stay with my parents, took a ten-hour drive back to California, lived in a motel for nine days, and found a small new apartment where we shared a room. Everything fell apart four months later, though, when I got a job outside of the home.
I have been the only constant in C's life. To this day, she has never spent a night away from me, and I am the only one to ever comfort her at night. For a child who often struggles to go to sleep and doesn’t sleep well at night, this is a big deal. She is two-and-a-half and still wakes up at night, scared. The first time she spent more than three hours away from me was her first visitation day with her dad at 18 months. At the time I went to work, C was a little over 18 months, and she had never been away from me for any real length of time.
I found a job, specifically looking for something flexible. I was very lucky to find something that allowed me shorter-than-average days (thanks Joanna!), so that C wouldn’t have to be away from me for 10 hours a day. The job is also four days a week, which has proven absolutely necessary for C’s well being.
Once I found a job, I started looking for a daycare. I did a ton of research, trying to find the best possible place for her. When I found the daycare I settled on, I felt confident that she would be in a loving environment. There were 14 kids and 5 adults. The caregivers assured me that she would be well cared for emotionally and that they would help her through a difficult transition.
The transition to daycare was far worse than I ever could have imagined. I prepared her for it ahead of time, explaining what would happen, and taking her for visits. The first day I left her, she screamed “MOMMY! MOMMY!” and had a look of total terror on her face. I again assured her she would be fine, exited quickly per the Internet’s advice, and held it together until I got outside, where I literally collapsed on the sidewalk. I felt horribly guilty. Thank God for my mother, who reminded me that I truly had no other choice—I had to work to support us.
You never know how strong you are until you’re forced to be.
C’s experience at that first daycare was so traumatizing for both of us that it literally pains me to recall it. The daycare provider tried everything she could, but she couldn’t comfort C. During the first week, she cried most of the day and refused to eat or drink. By the second week, she was withdrawn and quietly depressed. When I came to pick her up after work, I would find her sitting in an outdoor swing with the primary caregiver, staring off into the distance. I started calling this behavior “going to her happy place.” Every once in awhile, she still goes to her happy place, but luckily I recognize what’s going on and can talk to her, which helps a lot (man, am I ever thankful she can communicate now!).
The daycare lasted for nearly a month before I realized it was never going to improve, and continuing to leave her there would just cause more trauma. The daycare had a caregiver entirely dedicated to C, but she still couldn’t cope. They gave her two more days until she was essentially kicked out, but none of us (me, C, or the caregivers) could take it anymore. My mom flew down from Oregon (again) to stay with C while we tried to find another option.
Thus began the search for a nanny we could afford. The nanny I found, Cyndi, was sent from heaven above, I swear. She is kind and patient, super experienced, and willing to work with C—but even she was blown away by the level of anxiety that C was displaying. She became completely hysterical by the sight of bark chips, sand, shadows on the ground...and a lot more. It was heartbreaking.
Cyndi worked very, very hard with C, and I credit her with much of C’s improvements during that period. Part of their time was spent in a nanny share with Cyndi’s son, which was ideal because C was also afraid of other children. By the end of their time together (Cyndi and her family moved), C walked right up to a group of kids playing in a sandbox at the park. That absolutely never would have happened just a few months prior.
Since our time with Cyndi, we have slowly worked our way into a preschool setting. After Cyndi, C had another nanny, attended a Montessori school with only six kids, and is now in a very calm, structured preschool with 12 kids. Although making that many transitions is far from ideal, we had a lot of unexpected issues arise that made it impossible to find the right situation immediately. In the end, I think it has turned out perfectly, because her school is fantastic. She will be able to stay there until she starts kindergarten, and, for the first time, she is thriving in a school environment.
A child who grows up with a baseline of stress develops a fight-or-flight response to any negative emotion. I did my best to create as relaxing an environment as I could for my daughter and I, and in some ways this made life even more confusing to her at first. One time, about a month after we left, my mom realized she forgot her glasses at my house and made some sort of exclamation like, “oh crap!” From the backseat, C started crying: “Mimi sad, Mimi sad.” My mother felt awful, and of course C picked up on that, too. Her life had become very calm, and she reacted to even the slightest bit of arousal.
Trying to Find Help
Soon after I started work, I went to a Meetup of “freshly single mothers.” One of the women in the group had a horrible experience with domestic violence. Her son was in therapy at a clinic specializing in early childhood trauma, and had made great strides. I called the clinic as soon as I got home.
It took awhile to start the treatment, but C’s therapist has been incredibly helpful. She’s taught me how to communicate with C in a way that she understands, and in a way that offers her comfort. She’s also provided me with a long list of books (which I’ve added to), which have helped.
As her ability to express herself has developed, C’s inner turmoil has become more and more apparent. While it is heartbreaking to hear what’s going on inside her little head, she’s now able to understand my explanations more, and I’m able to ease her fears—currently focused on bugs, goats, and polar bears—more than I could before. I am so thankful that I found professional help for her when I did.
We are now a year and a half past the separation, and I have been working outside the home for over a year. It’s been about nine months since C started with her therapist, and I’ve found that a calm, relaxed home environment is what we both need to be happy. In many ways, things have improved a lot, but we still have a long way to go. She still doesn’t sleep, has a hard time with certain situations, and needs a very structured routine in order to feel safe.
Through this process, I have learned a lot about toddlers (sensitive toddlers specifically), and would love to share the information with others. While C’s emotions and reactions have been amplified due to her sensitivity and early experiences, many of her difficulties are issues that all toddlers struggle with. Some of the most common are separation anxiety, difficulty with sleep, fears of the unknown, and transitions.
Little kids don’t have to go through trauma to have a hard time with transitions. Despite this, finding resources to help C was really difficult. Many of the books and advice aimed at helping kids are for ages 3+, when you’re able to reason with them more successfully. Toddlers under two, on the other hand, face specific challenges…most notably a lack of ability to communicate. They’re also a lot more aware of their surroundings and other people’s emotions than we give them credit for. They may not be able to speak, but from a very early age kids can understand everything going on around them, and are constantly trying to make sense of it. At times it was hard not to talk about the divorce in front of C, but she could understand everything we said.
I am sure that we have many challenges to face in the future, but I definitely think things are (finally, hopefully) improving. One of my main goals for C is to help her learn to be a strong woman—to find her own voice and speak her mind, even if it doesn’t please others. This is something that I have found challenging in my own life, and I think my personal experience (and that of other strong women we know) might be helpful to her.
The past year and a half has been very bumpy, and I’ve had to be very vigilant about protecting my daughter, while teaching her that she doesn’t need to be afraid so much. This wasn’t an experience I felt comfortable sharing at the time, but it feels right now. I am looking forward to sharing with you all again.
If there is anything at all you’re curious about, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments. If I don’t feel comfortable discussing it with the entire Internet, I will contact you directly. Thanks so much for sticking around.Comment
Hi. Long time no see, eh? I hope you’ve all been well. It feels like I’ve been gone for ages—your babies are teenagers by now, I’m sure. I hope middle school wasn’t too rough. I've missed you.
I am happy to say that I plan to begin blogging again on a regular basis. But first, I thought I should let the universe (er, all 20 readers I have remaining) know about the fate of Stinkerpants. I have decided to leave the wedding industry permanently.
As I mentioned before, Stinkerpants was a big part of my marriage, and I have been wrestling with its place in my life for the past year and a half. The day-to-day life of a full-time single mother is, well...full. After only a few weeks—heck, probably days if I'm being honest with myself— of being single, it became abundantly clear that I couldn't operate my business as I had while I was married. And after working a full day at my day job, I crave balance. I want to spend time with my sweet daughter. After she's in bed, I want to read, watch TV, or write. I do not want to worry about meeting deadlines. As a result, I will no longer be producing custom drawings.
That being said, I do want to share my life with all of you, which is why I have decided to return to blogging. What C and I have been through in the past year and a half (and what I've been dealing with for the past decade or so) has been very difficult, and I think our experience could help a lot of people. I have done a lot of soul-searching and personal work, and I would love to share.
But before I begin (with the next post), I felt that I should explain what will happen to the website. It will change over the coming months, but in essence, I decided to convert all of my drawings to printables and move the shop to Etsy, which supports digital downloads. Now, Stinkerpants customers can download a PDF of a drawing and print it at home. All of my drawings (including ABC prints, wish trees, Laws of the Land & Household Bill of Rights, the drawings originally used on my Word Play t-shirts, and the Chinese Zodiac) can be downloaded for $5 or $10 and printed at home. On the website, I will still be selling the full-size ABC poster and the large Wish Tree poster, in addition to physical copies of the bridal party greeting cards and various other everyday greeting cards, which I still have in stock.
Why did I decide to do this? Well, a couple of reasons. First, I put a heck of a lot of work into those drawings, and it felt very sad to have them collecting virtual dust on a hard drive somewhere. Secondly (and most importantly), if I were a customer, a downloadable print shop is what I would want. Instant gratification, and cheap—what more could a nesting mama-to-be ask for?
So that's it for today—I will see you next week. :)
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