Ten Tips for Traveling with a Toddler

  1. Make sure to move as far away from family members as possible so you will have no choice but to travel with your child. It is particularly important here to move somewhere that does not have a major airport nearby so you are guaranteed a trip with either multiple flights/layovers or a long drive. 
  2. If you are driving long distances in the heat, your vehicle does not require air conditioning. The oppressive and extremely uncomfortable heat will be a welcome distraction from the monotony of the journey. 
  3. Spend money on brand new toys for the journey so you can produce them at intervals to surprise and delight your child. You are guaranteed at least 20 seconds of entertainment before the toy is thrown under the seat or at another passenger. 20 whole seconds! The joy! 
  4. Ask the flight attendants to please bring you your in-flight meals, cold drinks, and hot drinks all at the same time so you can practice your simultaneous juggling, wrestling, and contortion skills (here you are wrestling with the tray as well as the small human). By no means ask them to keep your meal warm until your partner has finished so you can switch off holding the kid. That would be a demonstration of weakness. 
  5. If you have the option, do not buy your toddler a seat unless you have to. He’s only small – why would he need his own space? Plus, the child does not like being held or cuddled, so it will be good practice for him. 
  6. An excellent distraction is a hair elastic. These can be flicked at sleeping passengers’ faces for endless entertainment. 
  7. Attempting to rock the child to sleep in a tiny space while he continuously headbutts and kicks you is an amazing upper body workout. 
  8. Take your toddler for regular walks through the plane to ensure that every single passenger shares in the experience. If you can, time this for when they have just served an in-flight snack, because there is nothing like stopping your kid from grabbing other peoples’ food over and over and over and over (and over and over) again. 
  9. When the child decides to adorably blow raspberries at the passengers in the row behind, do not forget to stuff his mouth full of soggy cookies beforehand. 
  10. And finally, always wear your nicest clothes to travel. When you emerge from the plane at the other end — covered in gooey handprints, milk dribbles, probably some pee, and babyfood blobs — you want people to know that you initially (now a lifetime ago) made the effort to look nice. 

GOOD LUCK.    

Glasses for Declan!

Declan and I visited the optometrist today. We’ve been noticing for a few months now that he has a tendency to cross his eyes. Both eyes occasionally slide to the center, but the right more than the left.  

Cross-eyed kid

The doc said that this was caused either by overly tight eye muscles, which might require surgery, or by farsightedness. She put some drops into his eyes to relax the muscles, then used a retinoscope to shine a light in his eyes and take a look at the reflection off his retinas. She determined immediately that he is farsighted – severely in his right eye and moderately in his left. Farsightedness results from the eye being too short:   

The good news is that as he grows, his eyes will grow too, and the problem will hopefully reduce. However, since the right eye is so much worse than the left, it is unlikely to go away completely (if the right eye grows enough to correct the problem, then his left eye will likely be too big and become nearsighted).  

In the waiting room


Long story short, the boy has to wear glasses! If we did nothing, then eventually his brain would stop paying attention to the right eye – giving him a permanent lazy eye. She was able to determine the exact prescription for each eye by holding up lenses while using the retinoscope and seeing which one neutralized the refractive error.  

We pick up the glasses in a week or so. I’m to try to get him to wear them (ha!) for three days. If I fail, then I can take him back for some “magic drops” that will relax the muscles in his eyes and (I believe) blur his vision so that he has to wear the glasses to see.

We chose orange frames!


Apparently this issue is genetic, though we haven’t yet determined whether Goodlanders or Baths are to blame, since both Christian and I have perfect vision and there are no examples of farsightedness on either side that we know of. We wondered if it had anything to do with his torticollis/plagiocephaly, but she said not. 

I’m struggling a lot – as I did with the helmet – that my child is not “perfect” (he also failed a hearing test in his right ear the other week, so we go back in for follow up on that soon). I’m particularly unhappy that the glasses may be something that he needs forever. However. I’m trying my very best to count our blessings; He’s happy, he’s healthy, he’s freakin’ adorable, and this is an issue that can be easily addressed. Plus, orange glasses are cool. 

Survival tips from the first year

Declan is now one year and a bit. He’s a ton of fun most of the time (some of the time he’s whiny and annoying and picky about food, but the fun times make up for all of that). He still only sleeps through the night occasionally and we’re definitely dealing with a nighttime-pacifier-addiction, but whatever. It’s handle-able (see #3 below).

I received a lot of advice while pregnant and during Declan’s first few months. Some advice was annoying, some might have been helpful but I wouldn’t know since I wasn’t in a place that I could hear it. However, a few tidbits were very valuable and will stick with me if I ever decide to be brave and have another baby, so I wanted to put them down on (virtual) paper and share them with you. So listen up (or don’t, see #6 below) – especially if you have not yet had a kid and think that you might in the future. Nothing will ever prepare you adequately for the chaos, but these tips might help. And thank you to the wonderful friends who shared these nuggets with me along with your reassuring stories.

  1. (While pregnant): spend your time napping, resting, watching Netflix, drinking tea, and generally sitting down and being lazy. Seriously, do it. I now have around 45 minutes to myself in the morning to get ready, pack lunch, tidy the kitchen from the previous night, and have a cup of tea. If I can manage to do it all and finish my tea before Declan wakes up, it is worthy of a small celebration. And that’s pretty much the only time I get to myself all day. Appreciate the opportunity to do nothing quietly while you have it.
  2. (While pregnant): Do not worry one tiny bit about labor. Worry about the weeks/months that come after labor and try not to worry about those too much, either, since there will be plenty of worry while they are happening. I cannot believe how much I stressed about the labor, and that was a mere blip in the roller coaster that was the first three months of Declan’s life. Labor will happen, it will hurt, you will bleed a lot, but then it will be over and you’ll have to deal with the nonstop seemingly-nonsensical whims of the tiny human that you just produced. Labor is nothing in comparison.
  3. Don’t expect that you will ever be well-rested again. Rather, expect that you will get used to functioning on much less sleep than before. It’s quite amazing how much I can now do on 2-3 hours of broken sleep. In my pre-kid days I thought that the baby would start sleeping through the night after a few months and everything would go back to normal. Not so. Nope. Apparently it’s a well-kept secret of parents everywhere that once you have kids you never sleep again. You just get used to it and increase your use of concealer and consumption of caffeine and wine accordingly.
  4. Teeth can play peek-a-boo for WEEKS before they finally emerge for good. Who knew that was a thing? I thought that once you saw swollen gums and felt the beginnings of a tooth that it would soon pop through and that would be that. Nope. Apparently teeth move forwards AND backwards. Declan’s top four teeth took seven weeks to fully commit to coming out. Seven. Some days we could feel them, some days we couldn’t. It was absurd. Now his molars are threatening to do the same thing. Teething sucks.
  5. If your baby goes to daycare, then get used to spending time at the doctor’s office. Colds, coughs, wheezing, ear infections, strange rashes, excessive screaming, vomiting, diarrhea, the works. Oh, and get used to catching half of the bugs, too. I’ve never had so many colds in one winter. But it’s all going to result in a strong immune system for the wee one, riiiiight?
  6. Don’t listen to the horror stories, don’t read the books if they are stressing you out, and most definitely do not Google things. Every experience is different. Your baby and your story are unique. Trust your instincts. Nothing I read in a book or online helped with Declan’s sleeping and the internet has never helped me determine whether or not a symptom needed a doctor visit. I trust a very small circle of people to give me advice when I ask for it (including the doctors, daycare ladies, and my sister), but mostly we muddle through by ourselves and I’ve somewhat learned to freak out less over every little thing.
  7. If you are kid-free and think you have a messy house – you don’t.
  8. If you plan to use disposable diapers – buy a diaper genie. They are brilliant.
  9. Don’t ever get comfortable. Just as you have one thing finally figured out, the next thing will jump up and hit you on the head. In the last six months we went from dealing with a helmet to nonstop ear infections to a terrible stomach bug to the beginnings of tantrums. There’s always something new.
  10. And finally, this one is just from me: Keep a stockpile of saltine crackers, Gatorade, Pedialyte, and soup in the house. You will thank me when the stomach bug hits the entire family and no one is capable of driving.

What advice stuck with you from the early days of parenthood?

25687928540_8ca54c9635_k

25355946084_7f7c3e708b_k

 

Changed Leader; Leader of Change

I just participated in the Idaho Change Leader Institute. This is a professional development program organized by the Idaho Commission on the Arts for leaders in arts administration across the state of Idaho. The concept began in Utah in 2003 (formally implemented in 2005), and is currently available in several states across the western U.S. There were twelve of us in this year’s Idaho program, which took place in Boise. Executive directors, program directors, and all kinds of manager-types from arts councils, performing arts centers, and other arts orgs. Twelve strong, opinionated, passionate, sometimes-theatrical, funny, outspoken, overworked, creative leaders in one room for three days. It was interesting to say the least.  I didn’t really know what to expect going in, and was mostly nervous about having to spend (i.e. waste) time participating in ridiculous ice-breakers and team-building exercises. I needn’t have worried, however. While there were certainly group activities (some of which had an element of the ridiculous) there was an identifiable purpose to every component that eliminated most of my frustration or reluctance.

Day One: 

I didn’t experience any ground-breaking revelations on the first day, but it did give me a few things to think about:

  • Mindful Listening. I am terrible at this. I get bored, I formulate my response way before it’s needed, I get distracted, I daydream, etc., etc. A couple of exercises that we did helped me realize my shortcomings here and gave me some pointers in fixing them.
  • What it means to get, have, use, and keep power. “Power is the ability to get all of what you want from the environment, given what’s available.” This one was a no-brainier for me. The lessons helped validate/reinforce some of my personal beliefs, but didn’t really reveal anything new. I think working in the federal government for eleven years taught me a great deal about obtaining power and using it effectively to get things done.

  • The Meyers Briggs thing. I’ve taken the Meyers Briggs test a couple of times before. I’m an INTJ, and I’ve done quite a bit of research into what this means (it’s pretty spot on for me). However, I’ve never really thought about where other people land on the scale  and how I can use this knowledge to better understand their behavior. Sharing our results as a group and working together with others of the same “temperament” demonstrated the value in thinking about where someone else is coming from before judging or dismissing their point of view.

We watched The Whale Rider movie after dinner and pondered it’s examples and lessons about leadership and change. I was tired and the chair was uncomfortable, but it’s a pretty wonderful film with a powerful message about quiet leadership and determination. My favorite part was that the story dealt with leading change in cultural traditions and gender roles without feeling the need to scream about it. There is so much more power in calm and quiet action than in loud protests or demands.

Day 2

The second day felt like an overload of information, and by the reflection time at the end I struggled to remember everything we had done (thank goodness they gave us a binder!). But here are a few of my takeaways:

  • We watched a video with Dan Heath about why change is hard. This presented the finding that self-control is actually exhaustible. As a result, people resistant to change might be perceived as lazy when in reality, they are just tired. This is so true of staff at non-profits! Sometimes we cannot even process a new idea because we are so thoroughly exhausted from just getting our jobs done.
  • We learned the NWBE chart. Pronounced “newbie” it stands for Needs, Wants, Beliefs, and Emotions, and is helpful in finding common ground and obtaining commitment when working with other people or organizations.

  • We talked a lot about resistance: different types of resistance, how to deal with resistance, and the fact that resistance is actually a positive thing. In the diagram, both “power” and “resistance” are positive forces, while “victim” and “loser” are negative. Once you understand this, you can better surface and respond to resistance both in your organization and in yourself.

  • We practiced several different negotiation styles and facilitation tools. The facilitation exercise was… interesting. The topic was improving volunteer retention and each group had to facilitate a productive discussion using a different tool. Well, we clearly all had some personal experience of dealing with volunteer unrest and the crowd of “volunteers” got a little … hostile toward the presenters! Nevertheless, it was a useful endeavor, though I’m not sure any of us will be using the fishbone tool any time soon. :)

The second evening we were fortunate to see Constellations at the Boise Contemporary Theater. This is a wonderful, two-person play about love, tragedy, and the multiverse theory that really makes you think about where your choices lead you.

Day 3

On the final day, we were split into two groups, assigned a (turned out to be real-world) community with a problem, tasked to take on roles within that community, and use as many change leader tools as possible to propose a solution to the problem. This was so much more fun and useful than I was anticipating, and our group had a great time strategizing and then presenting on how the desolate downtown of “Beaverton” could be revitalized through the arts.  
 In conclusion, I found the Change Leader Institute to be worthwhile and fun. The facilitators were knowledgable, sincere, and respectful of participants’ time. The tools can be applied in almost any circumstance – both professional and personal: to help gain consensus among resistant colleagues, to have productive conversations with a challenging board, to better understand and therefore program for your community, to take steps towards that elusive work/life balance, to identify and maximize your own strengths, and so much more.

I enjoyed spending time with the staff and my fellow change leaders, and I’m greatly looking forward to continuing these new relationships. An excellent three days with many valuable lessons that I won’t forget quickly.

Who should pay for the Arts?

Amber-nonprofit-discount-edit

An actual photo that one of our staffers used to get a discount on software

Working for a small nonprofit after the Goliath that is the Smithsonian has been an eye-opening experience. We’re constantly doing – as my boss likes to call it – “the hustle.” A great deal of time, energy, and resources is spent (and stress, sleepless nights, and several tears are experienced) while chasing funding instead of working on the mission, while the mission remains crucial to bringing in the money as well as being the reason we’re all here. It’s difficult to maintain that balance while keeping the organization afloat and the staff (mostly) sane. It’s made me think a great deal about who should pay for what we do. I believe the arts are critically important and I am incredibly proud that a town the size of Idaho Falls (serving a population of around 100,000 in the city and surrounding rural areas) has art galleries, a large, historic theater that brings in nationally touring productions, and the-first-of-its-kind interactive art and technology center for kids (ARTitorium on Broadway). But these facilities will never, EVER be able to survive on ticket sales and admissions revenue alone. Never. So if we agree that the arts are important and that people living in smaller, more rural communities should have access to high quality experiences in the performing and visual arts, then who should pay for them?

The Government? Not entirely. Many Arts Councils are city or state funded. We are not; we are a private nonprofit that relies mostly on sponsorships and grants. In my opinion, this is a reason to be proud. I do not believe that the government should pay for everything and we are lucky to escape the bureaucracy and restrictions that I know come with a government job. That said, I do believe that the government should support the arts. The arts contribute to education, economic development, and tourism (among other things) and local/regional government entities should recognize that through grants and fee waivers whenever possible.

Sponsors? Yes. I believe that the people and companies who care about the arts and have the means should help to pay for them. However, in a town our size there are only so many people who can do this, and they are constantly being asked for money. Sponsorship is the reason we are surviving, for sure, but it isn’t enough by itself.

Grants? Yes. Grants are an excellent way to distribute both government and private funding since they require organizations to outline and justify their needs. However, grants are typically small and project-based. There are not many grant opportunities that will pay for all the non-sexy operating costs of a nonprofit – building maintenance, supplies, staffing, etc. Plus, grant proposals take a lot of time. We’re fortunate to have enough staff at the Arts Council that we can dedicate some time to grant-writing, but many nonprofits in the arts have just one or two staff members, which makes grant-writing a significant challenge. And you cannot keep coming up with new projects in order to chase grant money. That’s not at all sustainable or sensible. (If I ever, miraculously, get rich, I am starting the “Non-Sexy Foundation” that will only fund operating costs. You heard it here first.)

Members? Yes, definitely yes. Membership is a great way for people who participate in the arts to support the arts. Membership programs typically have a variety of levels, allowing almost anyone to contribute and be a part of helping an organization that they care about. Membership dollars pay for all the non-sexy items (see above) and they are renewable, which is crucial. However (and there’s always a however!), in a small community, membership money can only go so far and fund so much.

Revenue (aka “profit”)? Of course. Nonprofits should constantly explore options for bringing in revenue in ways that tie to the mission. We sell tickets to the theater and admissions to ARTitorium (all at a reduced rate, thanks to sponsors). We also rent out both of our buildings to a variety of organizations – both commercial and nonprofit – allowing others to benefit from the beautiful, historic facilities that we own. We don’t make a ton of money in this way (we’re a nonprofit, remember?), but the money that does come in directly supports the maintenance of the buildings – ensuring that they will still be around for future generations to enjoy. The problem is that the arts can never be entirely sustained in this way. If we increased our prices so that revenue covered all of our costs, no one would be able to afford to participate.

Fundraisers? Yes – ish. Fundraisers (events/parties) are a great way to bring existing and potential sponsors together, make new connections, show our appreciation, and generate immediate cash donations. However, they cost money and time to implement, there’s no guarantee that revenue will exceed expenses, and they are not at all mission-based. Fundraisers are a tricky area. We do them, but we limit it to two per year and try to keep all of our other event- and program-based work focused on the mission.

Endowments? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Endowments put nonprofits on a pathway to sustainability. Endowments are amazing. HOWEVER, you can only put money into your endowment once you have paid for everything else, and therein lies the problem. Staff at arts organizations pour all of their energy, time, and expertise (aka blood, sweat, and tears) into balancing the budget every year – there’s rarely an ounce left to find more money on top of that. So, short of befriending a millionaire or two, large endowments are extraordinarily difficult to obtain.

So. Huh. I have no conclusion. I guess we will continue doing the hustle until the endowment fairy pays a visit. The moral of this story? If you enjoy the arts (galleries, theaters, museums, symphonies, operas, public sculptures, murals, art classes, music lessons, performances, etc., etc., etc.), then please, PLEASE SUPPORT THE ARTS, and preferably with real, unrestricted money. Thank you.

 

(Shameless plug: If you’re interested in supporting the arts in Idaho Falls specifically, we’re currently running a membership challenge in which up to $25,000 of new or increased memberships will be MATCHED by some amazingly generous anonymous supporters. So, you know, go become a member. And if you’re already a member, go become a bigger one. It will help me keep my job. Thanks.)

 

A recipe for better bums

Declan has been suffering from bad diaper rash since his diet became more varied. So bad that it would bleed and he would scream and the usually-amazing Butt Paste did nothing. A friend’s friend sent along the following recipe for homemade diaper cream, which is awesome and magical and wonderful and worthy of a blog post so that others might share in the awe, magic, and wonder.

1 large tub Aquaphor (or store brand version)

1/3 bottle liquid antacid (Maalox or store brand equivalent) 

1/3 tube A&D ointment 

Mix together in a large bowl, pop into tupperwares, apply to sore bottoms everywhere.  

   The particularly amazing aspect of this concoction is that it easily spreads over other creams or ointments that you might be using (anti fungal or antibiotic – we’re using both) without having to wait for them to dry, which typical diaper creams do not. 

You’re welcome. 

Gratitude

It’s my thirteenth Thanksgiving in America and my second as a bonifide U.S. citizen. I like the holiday primarily because I LOVE Christmas dinner and Thanksgiving provides a wonderful opportunity to eat it twice every year. And, even better, two lots of leftover sandwiches. Mmmmm. I also very much like a holiday during which people think about what makes them thankful. Facebook has been full of gratitude this week and it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. This is a time to be grateful and to count your blessings. So here are some of mine. In no particular order, I am thankful for… 

  1. Declan. Of course. Holy-mother-of-all-things-amazing he’s just the greatest thing in the world. I can’t believe he’s real. 
  2. My bed. Several years ago, Christian and I spent far too much money on a new bed (we even financed it forgoodnesssake). But you know what? It’s been worth every penny. Back when we were getting up at 4.30am every day and getting home past 7pm it was amazing. Now that we have a crazy child who makes lots of bizarre noises in the night? It is beyond incredible. It’s like lying on a cloud. 
  3. My Grandad’s recipes. The main reason I love Christmas dinner is because of my Grandad’s sausage meat stuffing and Cumberland sauce. I’m sorry, but if your Thanksgiving meal does not include these two items then it is just lacking. And the sandwiches? Leftover sandwiches are worthless without his stuffing and sauce. A. Maze. Zing. My Grandad was the best. His name was Bob and he was the first person to teach me to paint. Cool dude all around. 
  4. Our new home. We love Idaho. We love our neighbors in Grant, we love the town of Rigby, we love Yellowstone (of course), and we love the community of Idaho Falls that my job seems to have plonked us in the heart of. When I dreamed of living in the mountains I did not think I’d find a place like this. Just don’t tell anyone, because we don’t want too many people moving here… 
  5. Smart phones, Facebook, messaging, and video chat. I hate that I live thousands of miles away from my wonderful family but I thank goodness that we have the technology to allow them to share in our lives to a ridiculous degree. Yes, handwritten letters are wonderful and technology can make us unsociable and blah blah blah, but having Declan interact with his grandparents in England over FaceTime? Priceless. 
  6. Christian’s new-found talent in the kitchen. Since Declan was born (and I became useless for several weeks), Christian has been cooking dinner. He’s bought implements, researched recipes, discovered a love for Alton Brown, and he ENJOYS it. Which I do not. Now, most evenings, I can sit down for a few minutes after Declan is in bed while Christian makes dinner, then I get to eat his delicious concoctions. He’s really good at it and I’m THRILLED with this new arrangement. Hurrah.
  7. Sleep. I don’t get much of it, but when I do I’m eternally grateful. 

And… cowboy boots, heated seats, awesome friends/colleagues, Starbucks, diaper genies, slippers, tea, wine, Amazon, infant Tylenol, neckerchief bibs, Christmas trees, Netflix, non-slip bathmats, the list goes on. We’ve worked hard, made some good choices, and been very lucky. Happy Thanksgiving! 

  Christmas dinners with the Baths  

Wisdom from the Eighth Month

Seven whole months ago I wrote the post “Wisdom from the First Month.” I cannot believe so much time has passed and how much better I am now at dealing with everything parenthood has to throw at us. I also cannot believe that my tiny baby is now a crawling, sitting, standing, cruising, drooling, teething, babbling, wriggling, shouting STRONG miniature human being. Here are some more tidbits of knowledge and advice I have gleaned from eight months with the droolmonster:

  • You get through those tough first few weeks (months) and it does get easier/better/happier. In hindsight, the rough period seemed to last no time at all, though I know it felt never-ending while I was in the midst of it.
  • Sleep is a rollercoaster. Declan started sleeping through the night at nine/ten weeks old. It was amazing. The world was a wonderful place to be and everything was shiny and happy. Then at four months he stopped. At five months he started doing well again with some major-sleep-training-effort from us, then seven months brought a helmet and a cold and teething and it all went to hell again. Celebrate the good nights for sure, but don’t get too comfortable…
  • Get used to being damp. We live in a damp world now: damp patches on the carpet, damp clothes, damp burp rags, damp blankets, damp furniture, damp baby. Don’t walk around the house without your slippers because the drool and/or spit up will get you. It’s EVERYWHERE.
  • Eight month old boys would rather eat board books than read them. 
  • Teething sucks. You can buy every teething product that Target has to offer (I did), but in the end a cuddle and some Tylenol might be the only things that help.
  • It’s better to have a daycare that cares about (and possibly overreacts to) every cold/cough/rash/long nap than one that doesn’t pay attention. Try to remember this the FIFTH time that you leave work to rush the baby to the doctor only to have him giggle and blow raspberries (the baby not the doctor) for the entire appointment like the healthiest child in the world.
  • Babies instantly know when there is a non-toy item potentially within their reach. You can cover the floor with exciting, colorful, noise-making baby toys, but the kid will bee-line for the single, hidden item that they are not to play with. This might be a remote, a cup of tea, a pile of DVDs, or an important document. If it is not designed for babies, they will find it. Potentially dangerous items are even more appealing. Babies can also hear a baby-gate open from any distance and will suddenly be able to move at approximately 40 mph to get through it before it closes.
  • Napping is a nightmare. I’m constantly aware of when Declan last napped, how long he napped for, when he next needs to nap, how long that nap should be, when he shouldn’t nap, and whether a nap was a good nap or not. I’ve spent a huge amount of time (and gas!) driving past my destination and around in circles to ensure adequate napping, and ALL outings are planned around naps. It would be nice if some of those naps were mine.
  • Babies can go from lying and barely rolling to crawling, sitting, standing, and cruising in just a couple of weeks, at which point… 
  • Some babies never, EVER stop moving. There is no such thing as cuddle time with Declan. I’m sure that he was a restless/cranky baby because he was frustrated with being immobile, and now that he CAN move, he doesn’t stop. Ever. A typical five minutes in Declan world goes: wriggle/crawl/roll/stand/bang/shout/cruise/chew/wallop/fall/crawl/headstand/giggle/roll/wriggle/bite/hit/crawl/stand/rattle/chew/fall/cry/crawl/yogapose/scream/roll/crawl/pound/stand/collapse/shout/crawl. As a result…
  • I am not capable of being a full-time mum. I don’t know how all of you do it. I work four days per week and have three-day weekends with the miniature man. Those three days are absolutely, completely, 100% exhausting and by Monday afternoon I am most definitely looking forward to going back to work to have a rest. They are a huge amount of fun, too, don’t get me wrong, but I couldn’t do it seven days a week every week. No way. Did I mention that he NEVER STOPS MOVING and BARELY NAPS? I’m tired just thinking about it.

Now I’m going to be one of those annoying gushy parents. Declan is amazing and funny and crazy and incredible and I can’t believe how lucky we are to have him. He is definitely the best thing to happen to me and to us. In those first few weeks I felt regret and fear and worried that we had ruined our happy lives by having a baby. We hadn’t. Thank goodness. Declan rocks.  

  

Plagiocephaly, aka Declander the Amazing Helmet Boy

Declan started wearing a helmet last Friday. We knew he had a wonky head – for the first four months of his life he always slept in the exact same position – but we were hoping he would grow out of it. I knew I was supposed to be doing something about it (wedging him to sleep on the other side somehow), but it was enough of a celebration just to get the kid to sleep that I couldn’t deal with anything else. At four months old he started rolling and would sleep in a variety of positions, but unfortunately the damage had been done. 

At his four month check-up the pediatrician said it wasn’t too bad and that we should just keep an eye on it. At six months, however, a different pediatrician said “hmmm. We should probably have a specialist take a look.” The specialist came from Salt Lake City and said that Declan had a moderate case of plagiocephaly (wonky head) due to slight torticollis (weak neck muscles on one side). Now that he’s holding his head up fine and sitting/rolling/crawling etc., it won’t get any worse, but it also probably won’t get any better. He has a very noticeable flat spot on the back right side and his right ear and right eye are pushed forward as a result.  

She said that we didn’t have to go with a helmet, but that if not, we would need to work hard to make sure he never rested his head on the flat spot again. Not while sleeping, napping, sitting, playing, anything. Otherwise his head would just continue to grow with the flat spot instead of correcting it. That situation sounded far too stressful (and I’d have to make sure the daycare ladies were doing it, too), so we decided to give the helmet a try. 

We first went for more precise measurements, and found that the flat spot side of his head was 19mm narrower than the other side. Then, we went for the “casting.” Until about a year ago, this was actual plaster casting and would have been horrendous for both of us, I’m sure. Now, thankfully, it just involves a silly hat, some stickers, and photographs of every angle of his head. Declan still hated it, but mostly because he had to sit in a Bumbo chair for the duration and he HATES Bumbo chairs.  

They used the photographs to build a 3D digital image of his head then, from this, created a foam mold of his head as it should be (which we got to keep!). This was used to create the helmet, which, since it is based on the corrected version of his head, has gaps where we want his skull to grow (the flat spot area) and light pressure where we do not want any more growth.

We then went for the helmet fitting, during which they adjusted the edges and added pads for comfort. Declan started wearing it initially for just an hour at a time (one hour on, one hour off) and then wore it gradually more and more each day until day five, when he started to wear it 23 hours a day. We go for check ups every week initially, then every 2-3 weeks. He’s likely to be wearing it for around 3-6 months. At the check ups they take measurements and adjust the helmet as needed. 

The first couple of days were tough. The helmet is really difficult to get on and off and Declan got mad. A couple of times I set it too tight, which made him extra mad for extra long. After a couple of days, however, I got better at putting it on and he seemed to stop noticing it was there. By day 3, he was happily napping in it and on day 4, he successfully slept through the night. (On day 5, he decided to start teething,  but that’s a story for another day.) 

I hate the fact that I can no longer kiss and snuggle his head in the same way, and I hate how sweaty his poor head gets when it’s warm, but otherwise it’s easy to forget it’s there. 

Fingers crossed for a non-deformed, non-wonky, beautifully-rounded head in record-breaking time. :) 

   

Thank you, all of you. 

One of the reasons I am struggling with motherhood is because I’m an extremely competitive person. To the point that if I cannot be the best at something, I don’t want to do it. If I can study to get better at something, I will. If it takes natural talent and I’m no good? I tend to give up. (Kind of like how Hermione was no good at flying and no amount of time in the library could help her). So I’m constantly annoyed that I can’t study to get better at being a mother. That I can’t get all the answers right and walk away with my A grade. And there’s certainly no chance that I can give up. 

I also have envy issues. Several friends have recently had babies. If their child didn’t spend any time in the NICU – I’m envious. If they post a photo of themselves with their baby and their eyes are NOT puffy and bloodshot from hours/days/weeks of crying – I’m envious. If their baby sleeps – I’m envious. Social media paints an incredibly rosy picture of motherhood. I mean, look at my own feed and you’d think Declan was a permanently happy baby and that I never spend Saturday mornings screaming that I cannot cope for one more minute before locking myself in the bedroom and making Christian entertain the kid all day. 

The one thing that gets me through? That helps me open the bedroom door and give Declan a cuddle? That helps me persevere with “aggressive sleep training” (my term) and will get me through whatever challenge is coming next? You lot. The people who comment on my blog and Facebook posts and, even more, the people who send me private messages and emails or call. Not to give me advice (I don’t want advice!), but to tell me your stories. Your crying in the NICU, your struggles with breastfeeding, your lack of sleep. The people who know that the oft-touted phrase “it gets better” is not the whole truth. Yes, it gets better, but then it gets worse then better then worse then better ad infinitum. You give me the reality that I desperately need, you remind me that I’m not alone. Thank you, all of you. Keep the stories coming. xxx