Maturity is Like a Gate

This morning, while waiting for the bus, the Grasshopper looked up at me and said, “Mommy, I think our family would be better if we were only three.”

I knew she was talking about Cricket who is three and going through a tough time.  Last night, while my older daughter and I were trying to read before bed, an activity that is sacred to us, my little one shouted, shrieked, asked questions, blew raspberries, and generally did everything she could to interrupt reading time.  It was frustrating for all of us, most of all for the Grasshopper who felt the deep unfairness of the situation.  Why couldn’t she just have a few peaceful minutes of reading time with her mama?

This morning, though, my heart broke when I heard her words.  I wanted to put the words back in her mouth, to tell her to never say such a mean thing.  Instead, I took a deep breath and gave thanks for her trust in me.  How hard it must have been for her to entrust that dark secret to me?  I hugged her and struggled with a way to explain things to her.

This is what I told her:

Sometimes your brain has ideas on things that might be interesting to do or say.  But, you know, it’s not always a good idea to do or say those things.  Sometimes you look back after you make a choice and think, “I wish I had not done that.”  It’s like there is a gate in there, right?  That gate lets you make a choice to let some stuff out and keep some stuff in.

Three-year-olds don’t have a gate at all.  They just let everything out, whether or not it is the right thing to do at the time.  In a lot of ways, they can’t help it.  We help them build their gate by teaching them when their behavior is appropriate and when it is not.  Just like when we helped you build your gate.

You’ve got a pretty good gate right now, don’t you think?  It helps you to behave in appropriate ways and make the right choices about what you say and do.  Sure, sometimes stuff slips through even when you’re trying to hold it closed.  Like yesterday when you did the crazy dance before bed and got in trouble for being too loud at bedtime, remember?  And I will let you in on a secret.  Adults have gates, too.  Sometimes my gate lets the wrong thing out and I make choices that I shouldn’t make.  We own our gates, and we need to keep a careful eye on when we open them to let things out and when we close them.

We will keep helping your sister build her gate, and I promise things will get better.



Nurturing My Daughter Through Hyperemesis Gravidarum

I’ve mostly been writing about myself and how I am dealing with this hyperemesis gravidarum pregnancy and all the joys that have gone along with it.  I’d like to take a moment to talk some about how my daughter has been dealing with things.

The Grasshopper was one of the first people we told about the new baby.  We wanted to let her know early what was going on so that we could help her deal with the hyperemesis gravidarum.  Not knowing when it would hit, we wanted to give her a foundation of age appropriate knowledge so that she wouldn’t be blindsided by the brutal reality of the situation.

One of the best ways she connects to ideas is through stories, so we began reading Mama has Hyperemesis Gravidarum (but only for a while) to her.  I reviewed this book here if you are interested.

This story really seemed to help prepare her for what was happening.  I was able to tell her that “Mommy is sick.” And she would immediately make the connection and say, “Like Mama Bunny?”  Yeah, baby.  Like Mama Bunny.  Hyperemesis gravidarum was a term that she quickly learned to say, and because the book used to accurate medical term for the disease (as opposed to whitewashing over it), she was able to immediately grasp what was going on.

We experienced a lot of things that the Bunny family went through.  The Grasshopper came to see me in the hospital which was very similar to the hospital illustration in the story.  Grandma came to help out and spend time with her just like Grandma Bunny.  And Mama had a black bag with a tube that gave her medicine just like Mama Bunny had. This really, really helped her process what she was experiencing.

Now, I won’t say it was all sunshine and roses for the Grasshopper.  It was hard on her.  She and I are very, very deeply bonded.  We sleep together (at least for the first part of the evening), and up until very recently we still nursed.  That is to say, our relationship is one of both physical and emotional closeness.  I knew the hyperemesis gravidarum would render that kind of physical closeness difficult, but I didn’t realize how fast it would hit.  One day I wasn’t feeling quite right and the next I was in the hospital.  Having Mommy taken out completely like that was really hard for her.

For the most part, she seemed to handle things pretty well, but at daycare she became clingy with her teachers and sensitive with her friends.  Things that normally wouldn’t make her cry resulted in full melt-downs.  Thankfully, her loving teachers did not try to push her to “toughen up” or anything like that.  They knew from talking to us what was going on, and they compensated for what she wasn’t getting at home, but giving her extra hugs and affection.  Of course, they did not change their expectations for her behavior in the sense that they let her get away with acting out, but knowing what she was having to deal with allowed them to help nurture her through the toughest parts of the HG.

One thing that we never, ever did was tell her that the pregnancy or the baby was causing the hyperemesis gravidarum.  She knew about the baby in my tummy.  She knew I was sick.  We were careful to avoid connecting the two.

Once the hyperemesis gravidarum eased, things became much easier for her.  Just like in the story, the HG was “only for a while.”  She’s back to her usual bubbly self, which is great.  She’s helping us think of names for the baby.  Right now, the baby’s name is Muggle-Wump after the monkey from Roald Dahl’s Enormous Crocodile.

We’re doing all we can to help her feel a sense of bonding and ownership with the baby now.  We refer to the baby as Her Baby, and the Grasshopper has definitely internalized that.  She’s quick to remind us just whose baby this is!

She seems pretty excited about the baby.  She has a few friends at school who have new babies, one in particular is a baby girl who comes to visit often to pick up her older brother.  I love that she is getting that exposure early on with J and his baby sister.

She does seem to worry a bit about not being “little” anymore.  She reminds me a lot these days that she is little, and I always agree with her and re-assure her that she will be a kid for a long, long time and even when she’s a grown up lady she will always be Mommy’s little girl.  No pushing responsibility that she’s not ready for.

We’ve started talking about her being an “older sister” instead of a “big sister,” an idea from the Dr. Sears book What Baby Needs, a book I like because it depicts attachment parenting (breastfeeding, cosleeping, babywearing, etc) in a simple way for older siblings to see ahead of time.  She seems to prefer this terminology I suppose because it doesn’t seem to force any expectations on her.

At this point, she seems pretty enthused about Her new baby.  We plan to continue to reinforce the idea of participation and ownership from her so that she doesn’t feel shunted to one side after the birth.  The baby will be bringing the Grasshopper her very own baby doll so that she can do the things that she can do the same things that Mommy does if she wishes.  I’ve got a child-sized Ergo baby carrier put away for her, and at some point in the next few months, I’ll take her to pick out fabric for a Grasshopper-sized wrap so that she can carry her doll in a wrap like Mommy does if she wants to.  We’ll also have a step-stool in the baby’s room so that she can help with things like diaper changes if she wishes to.

I want to give her the opportunity to participate as much as possible.  If she prefers to step back, that’s okay, too, but I want her to know that she is and always will be one of the four primary members of the family.

So just to sum up, here are some of the tips in brief for helping older siblings with HG and pregnancy (the last few are still a little hypothetical to us):

  • Prepare them early to know what to expect – Seriously, do get a copy of Mama has Hyperemesis Gravidarum.  It’s wonderful.
  • Avoid letting on to them that the pregnancy (baby) is making Mama sick.  You don’t want them to blame or feel angry at the baby.
  • Let alternate care providers know early on about HG so that they can help nurture your child through it as well.  We lent her teachers copies of the Mama has HG book so that they could talk about the HG in a way that was consistent to how we were talking about it at home.
  • Give them age-appropriate ways to participate in helping Mommy out (making a cool wash-cloth, carrying over a glass of baking soda water to rinse the mouth after Mommy pukes, etc)
  • Help foster a sense of ownership for the new baby by calling the baby Her Baby or His Baby.
  • Give them a mental picture of what to expect once the baby is born through books, play, art, whatever speaks to your child the most.
  • Don’t push more responsibility onto the child than he or she is ready for: try calling them the “older” sibling instead of the “big” sibling.
  • Once the baby is born, help the older sibling feel included by finding ways for them to participate in the care of the child whether that be through diaper changes, imitation play, or other activities.

Have any of you had to help nurture a child through hyperemesis gravidarum or other very serious parental illness?  How did you help them cope?  What about dealing with becoming an older sibling?  Any tips you can share on that front?  Any favorite children’s books that helped with the adjustment?  My mom and I are only both only children.  All this sibling stuff in completely and totally hypothetical for me!