Product Review: LittleHippo Mella Toddler Alarm Clock

Product Review: LittleHippo Mella Toddler Alarm Clock | Writing Between Pauses

Sleep is, as most parents know, a precious commodity.

When Forrest was first born, I didn’t sleep for days. I don’t say this to scare new moms, or to brag, or to participate in the strange “well, I sleep LESS!” Olympics that sometimes occurs between parents. It’s just a fact, but I don’t think I’m alone in it. I was induced into labor on a Tuesday, slept exactly 3 hours then went into labor for 7 hours, then Forrest was born. And from the moment he was born until about 72 hours later, I didn’t close my eyes once. Nurses were in and out of our room; there were hearing tests and blood sugar tests and medications for me and uterus massages for me. Then there were jaundice tests and heavy whispers between nurses. I took my first shower and went 20 hours without peeing because of the preeclampsia medication, which was another worry. I swelled again.

All-in-all, I didn’t even sleep much the first time I told Danny I absolutely needed to close my eyes and not get up for a few hours. I slept about 45 minutes, then woke up to pump and feed Forrest again, carefully removing him from the jaundice space bed he was inhabiting at that moment.

Sleep didn’t get much easier. For the first 9 months of Forrest’s life, we fed on demand not out of choice (although many parents do make this choice and that’s absolutely fine for them), but because Forrest’s late preterm status, low birthrate, and early struggle with jaundice and feeding had set him back, weight wise. I wanted him to catch up, his pediatrician wanted him to catch up, and that meant waking up every time he woke up and feeding him.

Friends, he woke up every 2 hours every single night for 9 solid months. And for 6 of those months, I was also still pumping every time he ate. So that meant waking up, feeding him for 20 minutes, putting him back to sleep next to Danny, getting up, getting my pumping equipment, pumping and massaging for 30 minutes, cleaning up, storing milk, mixing up formula and milk for the next feeding, sanitizing my pumping equipment, and then going to bed myself… then being woken up maybe 40 minutes later to do it again.

Again, I’m not writing this to scare anyone. This is just the way it was for us. It’s just something we had to do. But it wasn’t fun. I was absolutely miserable, barely sleeping, gaining weight at a rate that is still somewhat alarming, and irritable as all get out.

When we decided to sleep train at 9 months, it was for two reasons: firstly, I was having such bad anxiety that I had developed burning mouth syndrome, a syndrome where your mouth feels constantly dry even though you are producing saliva; and secondly, Forrest had finally reached a growth percentile that our pediatrician was happy with.

Cut to 6 months later and we were all happier. Forrest was finally meeting developmental milestones at the right time instead of towards the lower end of normal. We were all doing a lot better. And truly, we slept great for a long time.

Until February of this year. You see, it was in February that Forrest climbed out of his crib for the first time. He had been (and truly, continues to be) a rather stellar sleeper. Sleep training changed our lives and Forrest thrives on the routine that sleep training gave him. He goes to bed at 6:30 and while his wake ups have always been a bit early, we got 10-12 solid hours out of him most of the time so we couldn’t really complain. But once we switched him to a toddler bed, we struggled with him climbing out of bed, waking up far too early, or just doing random things in the middle of the night (like collecting toys and books into his bed).

We made it work for a long time: letting him play at 3:30 in the morning, hoping he would crawl back into bed eventually and sleep; letting him get up and run around in his room even though we knew he was beyond exhausted. However, when he did these things, my husband slept fine—but I would be awake, watching him on our monitor at 2 or 3 in the morning. I just couldn’t sleep knowing he was awake.

Finally, during the summer, I purchased the LittleHippo Mella Toddler Alarm Clock. We set it up and started using it around July or August. At first, we didn’t see much of an improvement. Sometimes, Fo still woke up at 4am and decided it was time to party. He was still young enough that he didn’t really understand the “rules” of the clock. It’s only been in the past month or so that we’ve seen a huge improvement.

The LittleHippo Mella Toddler Sleep Training Alarm Clock

It’s been in the last 2-3 months that Forrest has been staying in bed through the night really well, but waking up really early. Part of this has been reducing the amount he naps and adjusting his bedtime. These are things that can be really challenging; I get 2-3 hours every evening to work out, prep for lunches the next day, blog, and answer emails, as well as do any cleaning around the house that I can’t get done with Forrest around. So giving up another little chunk of that time has been hugely challenging.

However, the Mella has been a huge help for us. Here’s how Mella works:

MELLA uses colors and facial expressions to teach your kids when it’s time for bed and time to wake up. Half an hour before it’s time to wake up, MELLA will glow yellow, signaling it’s almost time to start the day. When MELLA turns green, it’s time to wake up!

Basically, you set a sleep time in the Sleep/Wake setting. Sleep time for us, it’s 6pm so that Mella is “asleep” when we bring Fo to his bedroom. Then, you set a wake up time; for us, that’s 5:50am, which is later than Forrest ever sleeps. However, Mella glows yellow 30 minutes before the “wake up” time to indicate play time. So if you’re ok with your toddler waking up 30 minutes early and playing, that will most likely wake them up. However, the yellow and green colors are very similar to each other, so Forrest has a slightly difficult time telling the difference. We set this wake up time later so that he can simply get up when Mella glows yellow.

I love how cute Mella is; the little face on the front is especially helpful for Forrest because, even though he struggles with the yellow versus green light, he knows when Mella is awake versus when she’s sleeping. And now that he’s old enough, he understands that when Mella is asleep, he needs to be in bed.

LittleHippo Mella Sleep Setting
LittleHippo Mella Awake Setting

Mella also has a nightlight option; the front face will glow a variety of colors (you choose your preferred color) for 30 minutes until your child falls asleep. This is a nice idea, but the light is actually quite bright! Forrest has a star night light that he prefers. As well, Mella works as a sound machine too, with a set of 3 sleep sounds. We have a separate sound machine (so many machines in our son’s room at this point); however, the sound machine we have is notorious for burning out, so it’s nice to know we have an easy replacement for when it goes.

The Mella clock has really helped us start to sleep more in the mornings. Forrest finds it easy to understand now. I would say, if you’re looking into this clock, your child should be at least 3 before they are able to understand it effectively. That might vary child-to-child, but 6 months ago, he didn’t always “remember” the rules about Mella, even if he could talk about what Mella looked like.

Mella also has a battery back up, so if the lights go out, it is still running. Forrest always sleeps through the power going out, but we worried about maintaining his routine even through that. We like that we can also move Mella around without worrying about resetting everything!

If you’re the parent to a toddler or preschooler that has been waking up earlier and earlier each day, the LittleHippo Mella alarm clock is an investment—at $50, it’s not the cheapest alarm clock out there. But it has been a huge help to us recently. So much so, that I worry about it breaking! It has helped us to get more sleep, especially in the last few weeks.

Inspiration Sunday: October 28

Inspiration Sunday: October 28 | Writing Between Pauses

Happy Sunday!

October always feels like a very long month, which is good because it’s my favorite month. But as we get closer to Halloween, it starts to click in just how long this month is. Forrest has been asking nonstop to go trick-or-treating; the concept of days is still a bit strange to him, but I made him a little calendar and we cross off each day to Halloween now. He’s so excited to experience Halloween, which makes me so excited because I’ve always wanted him to love Halloween as much as I did and do! He gets to have a Halloween party at school this week, so I may have gone a little wild and made goodie bags for the other kids in his class.

This all leads me to the point of this post: what do we do when we get to a big event we have been beyond excited for?


For me, I always feel a bit ho-hum and let down after big events. A prime example is my wedding; I planned, I excitedly looked forward to, I had fun on the day and then, the next day… there were no big to do lists, no things to check, no plans. I’m somehow to works best by always having something to look forward to, a deadline to hit, and when I don’t, I find it hard to focus my energy. That’s why I liked being pregnant so much; I knew my body was working towards something very specific. That’s a little bit why I struggle with eating regularly and working out the way I know would help my body; I don’t have anything that I’m specifically working towards.

I always stress a bit how to not pass on this trait to Forrest, because, in general, it’s kind of a difficult one. Having to always set deadlines for myself to tasks so I don’t just languish on something is really challenging. So we often take to Forrest about how exciting things can be every single day, instead of just on days of big events. I try to make him excited for our regular days, by doing crafts and activities and lessons, having him help make dinner, playing games, or learning about chores—but still, I can tell he is just plain more excited for Halloween and he wants the days to hurry up so we can get to Halloween already!


The most challenging part of being a parent, for me, is looking at the big picture. It can be a pretty dismal way of looking at things, to be always focused on what positive traits I’m passing on: I want him to be tidy, like I am, and not prone to being messy, like Danny is, but I don’t want him to be obsessive about it, like I can be. When I reduce my parenting to purely “passing on positive traits,” it can get really overwhelming. And ultimately, Forrest is going to pick up what Forrest picks up!

It is more important for me, as a parent, to work on the things I can change; this shows Forrest, more than anything, that nothing is set. It’s ok to change and it’s ok to adjust your behavior and work on the things you need to improve. A lot of people are so set in their ways because they think their negative personality traits are set in stone; but that’s just not true! My indecisiveness isn’t set in stone; I can choose to work on it, to not get decision fatigue, and to have the confidence to take charge.

So whether Forrest feels let down after Halloween or not, I know I need to let him have that feeling. It's ok to feel that way. But I know it is more important for me to allow him to feel that way, but then also show him ways to keep moving forward, even after a big, exciting day.

This is a bit different of an Inspiration Sunday post. It’s been something I’ve been mulling over for the past few months. And moving forward in my 30th year (!!!) on this planet, I know it’s time to start really working through all these things. What’s inspiring you this week?

Things I Love: October 20

Things I Love: October 20 | Writing Between Pauses

Well, it’s here. It’s arrived.

Today, I’m 30 years old.

When I was a teenager, 30 felt ancient. You always watch movies and it seems like by 30, most people have their shit together—and the people who don’t really, really, really do not have it together, but are actively working to get it together. Prime example? All the FRIENDS characters were in their mid-20s in the pilot episode (25-27, roughly).

Your 20s are supposed to be for finding yourself, getting it together, and setting yourself up for success in your 30s.

But what if you are staring down at being 30 and feel like you don’t have any of the pieces of your life just right?

I realize it sounds a little crazy for a parent to write that. Shouldn’t I, as the keeper of a small child, who depends on me, have it all figured out? Shouldn’t I have a plan?

The other day, I had a moment where I really, truly had a panic attack about turning 30. I can’t really put my finger on why I suddenly felt desperately, horribly afraid of turning 30. Most days, I spend my time on autopilot: I get my work done, I take care of Forrest, I make dinner, I clean the house top to bottom nearly every week. It feels like I’m stuck on a clock.

Writing this blog has been a huge way for me to keep “a bit of myself” as I descended into motherhood. Writing about beauty products and how I use them is freeing. And I want other mothers to feel free as well, to remember that it’s ok to take care of yourself alongside everyone else.

But on Sunday, I looked in the mirror and I thought, “I don’t know this person.”

I started reading blog posts and articles about turning 30, about being a mother, about self-care after 30 and realizing that my crisis isn’t specifically unique. But it is my own.

When I had Forrest, it felt like I was swallowed. Like “motherhood”—the big behemoth of motherhood—swallowed me up whole. For a long time, I didn’t really know who I was outside of being a mother. My days are dominated by Forrest and Forrest’s needs. I’m not resentful about it anymore; I’ve managed to regain a little bit of my foothold and feel like me.

But the woman I see in the mirror isn’t… me anymore. We all change as we age, but there is something about this change that feels particularly unwelcome. I don’t look older necessarily (I can thank my round face for that one), but i just don’t look like myself. I think this said it best, from an article called “What I Learned About Self-Care After 30”:

I was so consumed with being selfless that I never stopped to take care of myself, and it pretty much came to a head all at once.
I was nearing the end of my 20s when I looked in the mirror and barely recognized myself one day as I got out of the shower. I used to love doing face masks, getting my nails done, making sure my hair was cut, but most importantly, feeling good about myself and the way I presented myself to the world. That all had kinda stopped. Instead, I was staring back at a tired, overworked mom who hadn’t gotten a haircut in a whole year and couldn’t remember the last time she had a pedicure or even plucked her eyebrows. I felt horrible, and it pretty much got worse from there.

Remember how I mentioned that I hadn’t gotten a haircut in three whole years?

3 years! I went 3 years without a haircut! Without doing basic maintenance on myself.

I’m not quite as freaked out about turning 30 today as I was a few days ago. I’m still the same person I was then.

It is hard to compartmentalize my life: to be a blogger, a writer, a professional, and a mother. I am all of those things at once, but sometimes… well, most of the time, being a mother trumps them all. I will abandon blog posts, I will leave work early, all for my child. Because that’s my job. But is leaving myself last on the list—running myself ragged, not taking time to see my friends or do things I enjoy—part of that too?

It’s not. My goal for turning 30 is this: to start taking time to really focus on myself, to let myself become a person I recognize again, and to dedicate time to being the best mother, professional, and blogger I can be. Not just one.

Things I Want to Stop Doing

This is a bit of a different Things I Love isn’t it? I started out writing it fully intending to transition to my usual TiLT posts… but I’d rather leave it at this. I hope you all have a wonderful Saturday!

Here's What I Learned from An Autumn Road Trip (with a Toddler)

Here's What I Learned from An Autumn Road Trip (with a Toddler) | Writing Between Pauses

I am not a traveller.

I know, I know. It seems like everyone these days talks non stop about traveling. Everyone wants to travel and see the world. And in some ways, I definitely want to see the world. But I don’t like traveling.

I don’t like driving for long periods of time. I don’t like airplanes. I don’t like the stressed, naked feeling of being transitional between two places (home and destination). I don’t like the anxiety it gives me. And now that I have a small human I’m responsible for, I absolutely do not like having to pack up everything I can think of for him (including but not limited to: blankets, toys, any medication he might need, extra food, juice, cups he can use, forks he can use, emergency meals, and milk). The amount he needs has consistently gone down since he was a baby (no more giant container of formula, bottles, bottle wash, sanitizer bags, Pack’n’Play, and more), but it’s still a lot.

And doing it by myself? Excuse me, no thanks.

Well, I did just that on Friday. Danny had gone over to Central Oregon (Sunriver, to be exact) for a teaching conference in Bend. My parents have a cabin in Sunriver, so we had decided it would be a family vacation. But with Forrest in school now, I didn’t want him to miss a day so we planned to go over once he got done with school.

As the days lead up to Friday, I started to seriously panic. Taking a three-hour plus road trip by myself with a toddler? Packing up the whole car on my own? I was nervous. Danny told me he would be fine if I decided not to do it, but I knew he really wanted me to. And of course, Forrest was excited at the prospect of a vacation. Nothing makes him nervous.

As I wrote on Instagram, I didn’t want my anxiety to make Forrest miss out. Yes, it would have been better for me personally to stay at home for the weekend. But Forrest would have missed out on some potential fun and that prospect made me sad.

So I did it. On Friday afternoon, I packed up the car, got Forrest a Happy Meal (no judgement), and drove 3 hours with a potty trained toddler. Here’s everything I learned.

Road Trip 1
Road Trip 2

1. It’s probably going to all be fine.

Probably. My biggest worry was that, while going over the pass, Forrest would need to use the bathroom. Since he’s relatively newly potty trained (it’s been about 3 or 4 months), when he has to go, he usually has to go immediately. This is fairly normal for preschool age kids. However, while driving across a mountain pass, the last thing I wanted to do I was pull over and break out the little potty we keep in the car. However, my anxiety was for nothing: we stopped at a rest area before the pass and he was fine all the way until we got to the cabin.

So yeah, the thing you worry about? It’s probably going to be fine. (Please remember to tell me this next time I go on a real vacation aka go flying.)

Road Trip 2
Road Trip 4

2. It’s ok to do things you normally wouldn’t (or that you would).

I had all these plans for things Fo and I would do. Museums. Outdoor parks. Everything. I wanted him to have as much fun as possible while we were on our own mini-trip, especially as Danny was still in a conference on Saturday. However, we ended up going for a nice long walk to get coffee and a treat, then went shopping and spent time relaxing in the cabin. I felt bad that we hadn’t done any of the exciting stuff I had planned, but we did have a nice lunch out together (my first time taking him to a real restaurant on my own) and he really has fun no matter what.

Road Trip 6
Road Trip 5

3. The weather won’t cooperate, but that’s fine.

Part of the reason we didn’t do all the fun stuff I had planned? It was raining! I think of Central Oregon as very cold and relatively dry. But it had been raining at home and that rain followed us on vacation. So, the museum I wanted to go to? Mostly outdoors. The walking trails? Off limits thanks to the puddles and downpour. We made it for our walk in the morning, but that was about it. We had fun jumping in puddles outside the cabin, then retreating inside to warm up and go pick up Danny from the conference. The weather wasn’t really what I had planned on, but that’s Autumn for you, really!

This is a much more personal post than I usually post for Blogtober, but I thought I’d try something different! I had so much fun over the weekend (even when Forrest pretended to have a stomach ache to get us to leave dinner!) and I tried something outside of my routine—and it was all fine! What’s something you are challenging yourself to try this Fall?

Motherhood & Friendship: It's Harder Than it Looks

Motherhood & Friendship: It's Harder Than It Looks | Writing Between Pauses

When I was a freshman in college, my best friend from high school got pregnant. We were very, very close the summer between senior year in high school and freshman year in college--and throughout our first year at college, we wrote each other letters, sent each other silly emails, text messages, and Facebook wall posts. (Remember Facebook wall posts!?) We were each others rock when we didn't really have a lot of other people who understood our background: we were perfectionist girls from small towns outside of a major metro, who went to a Catholic school where everyone was just a little wealthier than we were. We worked hard, took AP classes, played sports, and got good scholarships. 

I wish I could tell you that our friendship survived her pregnancy, that her becoming a mother and having to quit school, because you can't keep a soccer scholarship that covers most of your tuition when you're pregnant. I wish I could tell you that I had been there for her. And truly, I did try: I was 19 years old, however, and while that's no excuse, I didn't really have all the tools necessary to deal with her circumstances.

We fell apart for several years. My best friend disappeared into the background of my life; I remembered her fondly, but I wasn't sure exactly how to reconnect with her. But a year before my wedding, as I was trying on wedding dresses, I spotted her: she was trying on wedding dresses too. We hugged each other, we swore to get together... and we never did. I've chatted with her a few times since: we've met up for dinner once, she gave me the last of her breastmilk when Forrest was in the hospital just after his birth (a favor that is truly one of the greatest kindnesses anyone has ever done for me), and we talk occasionally on Facebook. But the spark of our friendship--that exciting feeling to have someone who just knew me, who understood all my quirks, who laughed at the same jokes as me, who sent me goofy cards she found in the grocery store just because--it's gone and it doesn't really come back. 

Recently, I was reading Jimsy Jampots, a newsletter by Amy that I really love, and she talked about friendship, about how some people seem to have a friend group that survives just about everything and others, well, just don't. I'll be the first to tell you I've never been great at making friends; I'm introverted and shy, with a heaping dose of social anxiety. I'm eternally self-conscious, always convinced I'll say exactly the wrong thing. It's like I never learned how to have a conversation, sometimes. But when people get to know me, I really do think I'm quite funny. But friends? Lasting friendships? That's something I really struggle with. 

In Amy's newsletter, she included a link to an article on the Pool about friendship and motherhood, and about how friendships shift and alter throughout our lives, but especially when we have kids... or don't have kids. You can read that article here. It got me thinking about my friend and how our friendship really dissolved once she was pregnant and especially after she had a baby. I was still in college, living a completely different life from her. 

Similarly, almost 3 years ago, I was having a baby when almost none of my friends were. I've written before that I found pregnancy a really fun experience (despite learning later on that I actually had a quite difficult pregnancy), but that I found the first three months of motherhood absolutely brutal. Postpartum life is isolating, exhausting, and, truly, just not very fun. Some people adjust really well and some people just don't. 

One line stuck out from that article by Robyn Wilder in particular: 

Recently, the Daily Mail zeroed in on a “controversial” blog post by Australian writer Nadia Bokody, in which she claimed that “I can’t be your friend anymore now you’re a mother”. And in reply I’d like to say this: “Well, of course you fucking can’t.”

I’m not the same as I was before kids. I’m a mother now. I have a pram the size of an SUV that I don’t know how to collapse. I have to watch a YouTube tutorial every time I want to get it on a bus. So, no, I cannot meet you for cocktails in a trendy Brixton bar that you can only access via a broken fridge door in a back alley.

It's very difficult to explain to people that it's not that I don't want to go to a trendy bar, or, god, even sit on a park bench and eat a sandwich and chat for hours. It's that I literally, physically cannot. I might be able to beg my child off on a babysitter for an hour, but that's just an hour. Or I can bring him along, spend all the time not really listening to someone talk, try to entertain him, annoy everyone else in the coffee shop, bar, or park, and then have to leave early because he didn't get a good nap, or he needs to eat lunch, or some other reason. (And truly, the stroller situation is out of control. Why don't they fold up easily!?) 

Motherhood changes everything in your life. In one monumental way (you have a human life that is dependent on you for basically everything) and in many small, insignificant ways that sometimes feel glaringly painful. They are little paper cuts, reminders that your life is somehow much better, but also much harder, than it was a year ago, or two years ago, or whatever. It's like someone has come into the apartment of your life and just changed the furniture a little bit. Your body doesn't work quite the same anymore and neither does your brain, really; you don't have as much time as you once did to lounge on the couch, or binge watch TV shows, or chat with your friends. Your car has gotten bigger, bulkier, and harder to maneuver and the backseat is basically a non-space, taken up entirely by a plastic potty that you have to carry everywhere, a bag full of extra clothes just in case, snacks, and the carseat that cost about the same as a house payment. You find yourself doing things your parents used to do: folding money into parchment paper and saving in the freezer with peppercorns inside, carefully wiping tennis shoes with wet paper towels to clean the mud off, creating travel books out of old binders and hole punched activity sheets you photocopied from your sister's old books, counting coins out for allowance, creating a chore chart. 

And there are people in my life who don't understand any of these things. They might even have kids themselves, who are older, or who are younger, or maybe they just adjusted to motherhood better than me and don't have to check the stove 3 times before they can get in the car. It makes friendship difficult. It makes it easy to go a week without talking, then two weeks, then somehow it's been two years and you're not even sure how to start the conversation anymore. 

Parenting is hard. It's not the hardest thing in the world and ultimately, it's a choice--but it's still really challenging. And it's hard to juggle parenting and socializing, especially if you, like me, aren't great at socializing to begin with. I've been on both sides of the coin: I've been the one moving on while a friend becomes a parent and I've been the one left in the dust, looking around and wondering when the last time I spoke to so-and-so was. And it's ok. At the end of the day, it's ok for friendships to fade. 

Because, in the meantime, you can find new friendships. Mom groups have bred some of the best friendships I've ever had--people who totally get me, who understand me and my difficulty with parenting, who laugh when I joke about starting a revolution, who understand when I say I don't really know if I want a second baby because I really, really like my first baby. People drift apart and it's hard to make time in the quagmire of our lives, but if you meet someone who is also fighting a two-year-old 13 hours a day, you'll be surprised as how well you can talk over screaming,. 

Why All the Advice on Potty Training is Actually the Worst

Why All the Advice on Potty Training is Actually the Worst | Writing Between Pauses

We started potty training in May 2017. Yes, you read that right: May 2017. Forrest was just over 18 months old and I had started to get panicked because other babies in my due date group were either already working on potty training, or were completely out of diapers. "Oh god," I thought, "he's behind." So we bought a potty seat, a small plastic potty, and the Elmo potty training DVD, as well as about 400 books on the subject. 

We watched the Elmo DVD repeatedly. Forrest sat on the potty. We had staring contests over the potty training books. And all the while, he never actually peed in the potty once. We kept trying. I had read advice that told me not to take it too seriously, to let him learn, but also I had to be in control, but also not to give him anxiety about it, but also he needed to be potty trained and it has to happen eventually, right, and how does it happen, guys?! 

I was stressed out by September when he turned 2 and was no closer to using a potty than I was to achieving time travel. I gave up. Over the holidays, I just let bygones be bygones; I didn't have the time or mental capacity to do it. 

Then, in February, we started over again. As I've said several times, March through May were very difficult months for us. And in February, we started having some potty training success (thank goodness), only to have Forrest develop pretty severe anxiety about the potty. The sound of the water would often make him panic and stop peeing, so we were still changing a lot of diapers. I was exhausted. I felt like it would never happen. In fact, I started to wonder if he would ever be potty trained at all. 

If you've ever potty trained a toddler, you know that it can feel like it's just never going to happen. 

Diapers are safe. Even for parents, they are safe: you know when you're out and about with your kid that they have a diaper and nothing bad will happen. Blowouts happen, sure, but that often (at least in our case and, truly, condolences to those parents out there who deal with blowouts multiple times a day). I started to get as stressed as Forrest, which surely wasn't helping things. 

I read all the advice. Anxiety for toddlers trying to potty train? Pour water into the potty to help them get used to the noise. Did it. Didn't help. A toddler who refuses to try? Either give them space,., or just refuse to give them a diaper. If they pee on the floor, they pee on the floor. (Listen, it's a no from me in that regard.) 

I read every solution about potty training out there. I read all the books, all the blog posts, all the parenting articles. Some suggested just waiting, deadlines for preschool be damned. Some suggested forcing the issue and spending three days in one room with a potty and a lot of juice, which truly sounds like some version of torture cooked up by parent blogs, honestly. 

In the end, do you know what happened? 

One day, he just did it. He was at my mom's house, he asked to use the potty, and he did. Then he did it every single time after that. Then, three days later, he was wearing underpants. It felt like it happened at warp speed: one day I was lamenting on Instagram that he would never be potty trained and the next day, he just was

It's been a few weeks now and I'm honestly still in shock a little bit. All that time, all that struggling, and you know what? All the advice I read was absolute garbage.

It's incredibly easy to write about parenting. In hindsight, it can sometimes feel like you put all the pieces together right. I have no idea if I did the right thing with Forrest. Is he permanently scarred from those two months he spent anxiously sitting on a potty? Could he have been potty trained at 2 if I'd just tried harder? Who knows!? I sure don't. And for everyone out there who claims they have the answers--of what is easiest, of what works immediately--I can't help but think that either 1) the days of actually being in the trenches of potty training, or breastfeeding, or whatever are so far behind them that they've literally forgotten or 2) they're so caught up in appearing perfect that they need to make it seem like they have the answers to everything. And that's not a judgemental thing: it's just the truth and I know I've probably done it myself. 

What else have I learned from this potty training journey? Well, for the sake of all the other moms in the trenches right now, sitting with their kids on potties in living rooms or cooped up in the bathroom for 20 minutes or watching that Elmo potty training DVD for the 500th time, here's a list of everything I learned from potty training: 

1. It doesn't happen overnight. 

First on my list of "things that are absolute lies" are those articles, books, and methods devoted to potty training your child in three days. Not only do those methods make all parents feel like absolute crap for thinking being closed up in a room with your naked toddler and a pile of juice boxes sounds like absolute hell and the last thing we want to do, they're also completely misguided. Those methods don't teach kids to actually learn to follow the rules of their body; they're just being shoved onto the potty by their parents for 3 days until eventually, they get used to sitting on the potty in intervals set by, guess who, the parents

The thing about parenting is that almost nothing happens on the schedule you think it will. Their development, growth, interests, and more happen sporadically, randomly, almost impulsively. And in a time of instant gratification, taking on something like potty training, which is about teaching a skill, can feel incredibly daunting. We want it to happen overnight because we are ready, we are tired of buying diapers... but we don't think about what our little person is learning. And really, it's not about making them do something: it's about teaching them a skill that lasts their entire lives. You can't rush it. 

2. Introducing concepts is important. 

As I said, we've been talking about potty training for over a year. So, even if you don't plan to potty train until after two, or closer to three, or you just want to let them lead... introduce those ideas. Start watching the Elmo potty training DVD (as much as I complain about it, it really was the best) or the Daniel Tiger potty training episode early--like at 18 months to 2 years. Introducing those concepts, even if you don't plan to act on them, helps them develop skills around language. 

3. It's not always about what is easiest for you. 

I'll be honest: sometimes, I feel really selfish because I struggle to set aside my needs for Forrest's. I've definitely gotten better at it. But with potty training, I think it goes without saying that sometimes what seems like it will be easiest won't be what works. Prime example: I did not want Forrest to use a little plastic potty that I had to empty. So messy! But you know what? He just did better with the thing I hated. That's fine. It's fine. There is no point in pressing the issue though. 

4. Stop freaking Googling. 

At a certain point, I just had to stop reading about what to do. It was driving me crazy not having the answer that worked for us. And all the advice, as I've said a few times now, felt conflicting, overly simplistic, or just plain wrong. And it didn't work! So if you're struggling, if you're not sure what to do, here's my advice: stop Googling, let your kid wear a diaper, and give yourself a week to just have fun and not worry about it. 

How to Plan Summer Lessons for Your Preschooler

How to Plan Summer Lessons for Your Preschooler | Writing Between Pauses

A few months ago, I realized that on the days I was home all day with Forrest, he and I both got extremely bored. Like, mind-numbingly, anxiety-inducing bored. I tried to find things for us to do: trips to the park when the weather was nice, playing outside, and more, but it's hard to fill all the time in the day. 

Plus, I had things I needed to get done at home. Shoving our schedule full of classes, trips, and more kept me from doing things like cleaning and finishing up the laundry. 

One of my friends suggested I start doing lessons for Forrest while I was home. This friend happens to be a teacher, so planning lessons was second nature to her. Not so much for me! But I sat down with PInterest and my husband (also a teacher) to pick out some simple lessons to start doing with Forrest. 

I ended up settling into a pretty good routine that helped both Forrest and I get over our boredom on rainy days and spend more time having fun together. Plus, he's learned a lot! 

Since summer is rapidly approaching and I know some parents will be at home with their preschool-age children, I thought it would be handy to share my tips regarding planning simple lessons--especially if you've never planned a lesson in your life! In these tips, I'll also talk about the schedule I follow, how to decide on topics, and what supplies you need. 

1. Focus on Their Strengths & Weaknesses

Every preschooler has their strengths and their weaknesses. Forrest is very verbal; he can count to around 12, knows most of the alphabet, and draws people. However, he's not great at following directions, something I wanted to work on in lessons, or trying things on his own initially. Whether your child is a whiz at numbers or prefers spending time outside learning about nature, you should tailor your lessons to revolve around not just their interests, but they things they are best at. 

Here are a few sample lessons that I've done with Forrest: 

  • Gluing shapes to a piece of paper to create flowers
  • Identifying letters along with a word that starts with that letter
  • Counting the number of stickers on a sheet and using them to create a scene 

Typically, I like to pick a theme for lessons to revolve around during the week. It might be Spring, or Animals, or something Forrest has recently shown interest in, like flowers or plants. I think try to think of something simple he can do that combines that theme with something like identifying letters, drawing, or counting, as those are things he enjoys doing. As time goes on, I'm going to start incorporating more challenging elements, like tracing letters and numbers. 

2. Keep It Age Appropriate

Forrest will be 3 in September, so his lessons are definitely more simplistic than they would be for a 3-1/2-year-old or a 4-year-old. He's not going to be able to write letters at this point, for example; but he can count and tell me what he says, identify letters, and help glue things to paper. This was hard for me initially as I had grabbed some worksheets from online that were simply too challenging for him; he wasn't able to follow the instructions I told him and it was frustrating for both of us. 

3. Collect Special Supplies

We have a special bin of paper, stickers, and other art supplies that we use only for lessons. In this bin is also our tub of kinetic sand, which is often his treat for finishing a lesson. Having special supplies that are only for "school" has helped him separate these lessons from "playing"--while still being fun. I buy most everything we use in the Target dollar section; they always have tons of stickers, stamps, and more. Right now, they have a dinosaur book with magnetic dinosaurs that I'm going to start using soon! 

4. Keep It Less than 15 Minutes

This is the schedule that I follow with Forrest: at the start of every hour, we do a 15-minute lesson. That's about as long as I can hold his attention. Then, I get the rest of the hour to do one of my tasks (like cleaning the bathroom or folding laundry, fun!) or work. I try to keep lessons to 3 a day, spread throughout the day. Any more and I find Forrest gets frustrated by the end--and also it's a lot for me to plan!

Older children can definitely spend more time focused on a task on their own. But for Forrest's age, 15 minutes is best. 

5. Avoid Tablets

Tablets are definitely not bad. But in terms of lessons, I find that they don't do a lot to help preschoolers learn manual dexteriority, especially when it comes to things like writing, drawing, and more. Tablets have their place, but not in lessons. This helps you also keep the exercise one-on-one; working with your child personally will help you connect with them and they'll learn more this way. 

6. Stick to a Schedule

I find that the more I keep up my lesson schedule with Forrest, the more he looks forward to it. We've started talking to him about going to school and how it will be like the lessons he does with me; getting him excited to start school is very important to us (and hopefully, to you with your children as well!). Since I'm only home 2 days a week with him (plus 2 days on the weekend), we aren't doing 5-days-a-week... yet. But this summer, we will probably add 1 more day of lessons to help him get used to having more of a schedule. 

Motherhood & Remaining Passionate: Why It Is Not Selfish to Keep Your Hobbies as A Mom

Why It Is Not Selfish to Keep Your Hobbies as A Mom | Writing Between Pauses

It is often said that women lose themselves in motherhood. 

After we give birth, we start "getting our bodies back" (whatever that means). We become "dairy cows" (if you're lucky enough to breastfeed). We have a small life depending on us, so it's easy to feel like our identity becomes flattened into one idea. Many of us spend weeks, or if you're lucky, months, away from work; and some will end up quitting their jobs because it becomes more cost effective. It's more difficult to make plans with friends, especially in those early months, and we find ourselves watching more TV or listening to more podcasts to keep our minds occupied. 

Here's a quote from Mia Redrick in her piece, How Women Lose Themselves in Motherhood

I call this the “Silent War,” the process of slowly fading away from yourself, your interests and your passions without even realizing that it is happening.

At some point, all mothers face this crossroad in parenting. We come up for air and realize that we can’t answer even the most basic questions like: When is the last time you read a book and finished it? What is your favorite place to shop for clothing? What are your hobbies? When is the last time you had fun doing something that you love?

It's good to know I'm not the only one who had one of these moments. 

Before I had Forrest, I ran, I worked out, I wrote constantly, I kept meticulous journals, and I read voraciously. In the long, hard months after I had Forrest, I didn't do any of those things. I read a few books in the first year of his life--maybe 6 or 7 total--and I wrote some blog posts that I only recently went back and deleted. Mostly, I pumped. I fed him. I read about formula online. I chatted with fellow moms. And I watched a lot of TV. It took me a good two years before I started feeling like it was ok to let myself indulge in the hobbies that seemed, well, kind of frivolous. 

I've often seen the argument, not necessarily from outsiders, but from mothers themselves, that they feel selfish when they take time for themselves. I don't necessarily have this feeling, but I do struggle to plan in time alone during the week. I do a lot of work throughout the week--my day job, plus running this blog and doing freelance work--and that tends to take up the time that I would otherwise spend indulging in my hobbies. 

Yet, it can still feel very selfish. When Forrest is playing or watching TV, I start to feel a little bad that I'm sitting at the kitchen table with my headphones in, listening to a podcast. Or, when he's napping, I start to work on the short story idea I've been outlining and re-outlining in a notebook for weeks--then I realize I have laundry to do, or lunches to prep, or the living room to vacuum. I feel caught in the web of having to do things that are "productive"--or that are beneficial to the entire family, not just myself. 

You know how on airplanes, in the safety guidelines, they always say to put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others? That's motherhood, at the end of the day. You have to give yourself time to be a whole person before you can effectively help anyone else become a whole person. 

It's difficult to find the balance, however. It's easy to go all or nothing in our lives. But finding a balance that works for you and your family will help you be a better mother in the long run. I know it has made me a better mother to have an hour to myself in the evening, to write, read, exercise, or sit on the couch watching the ID channel. Learning how to schedule in time for yourself is a hugely personal task; there is no right way to do it, and no single method that works for every family and situation, especially if you have a child with a disability or illness. 

I always tell people that there is more to my identity than being a mother. Yes, being Forrest's mom is the biggest part of who I am--it's definitely the most important, in a lot of ways--but it's not the only thing about me. I also love learning about makeup. I love watching trashy reality TV. I love true crime. I love German music. I love writing, about anything and everything.

If you let motherhood consume your entire identity, you're doing not just yourself a disservice, but your child a disservice. This isn't to say that your hobbies should come first (that's absolutely not the case); but it is to say that as a mother, you matter too and it's ok to take time for yourself.