Archive for August, 2012

Broken sheep cycle

Monday, August 27th, 2012

Sleeping continues to be a challenge around here. Specifically, it continues to take us a LONG time to soothe the girls enough to fall asleep at night, which means they’re going to bed LATE. And then, they both wake repeatedly during the night, sometimes just crying out for help retrieving a Binky; sometimes sitting/standing up in bed and demanding to be picked up and bounced back to sleep. It’s exhausting.

It’s also incredibly frustrating. When we talk to friends/family about our challenge, they convey clearly that it *shouldn’t* be this hard. We’re left feeling certain that we’re doing something wrong, but we’ve been utterly unable to figure out what. In fact, their sleeping has gotten *worse* since May, and we haven’t been able to figure out why.

Since we started the girls on “solids” in May, both have had occasional trouble with gastrointestinal distress. In addition, while Sam rarely spits up or has wet burbs or hiccups, Cate *still* struggles daily with reflux. Further, feeding girls solids three times adds 90 minutes to their daily routines. We’ve tried adjusting both the timing and content of their meals, but with little obvious effect.

We’ve also adjusted the white noise in the bedroom. During their first winter, we just ran the house HVAC fan all the time, and the blower hum worked great to mask household and other noises. When the weather got hot this spring, running the fan all the time raised the humidity intolerably. So in May, we switched to using the Sleep Sheep that Sierra and Izzy picked out for the girls. Its gentle stream noise worked pretty well, but its timer shut it off after 44 minutes. Within a few weeks, three people observed that whenever the sheep shut off, Sam would open her eyes, roll over, and look at them sitting in the chair as if to say, “Well? Are you going to turn it back on now or what?” Getting up to turn the sheep back on every 44 minutes all night was not better than getting up to Bink babies that often, so we finally bought a Marpac sound conditioner that makes white noise as long as we need it to. Within a day, Sam began occasionally sleeping 2-3 hours at a stretch for the first time in weeks.

Cate has been teething since mid-June, and Sam got her first tooth a week ago, and teething pain is assuredly an issue. Tylenol at bedtime helped Cate a little, but not enough, but didn’t seem to help Sam much. Bill bought some ibuprofen for us to try tonight, but there has to be more to our sleep problem than teething.

A handful of people said, “oh, you just have to let them ‘cry it out’ and they’ll sleep great!” When I pressed for details, most of them admitted that their baby generally slept well, but couldn’t quite fall asleep unassisted, or slept all night until 5 am, when they wanted them to sleep until 6 am. None of the stories I heard sounded like ours, and specifically, none involved night wakings. Further, I have deep misgivings about abandoning our children to cry on purpose. I don’t buy for an instant that kids suddenly learn to soothe themselves; rather, I imagine they learn that parents no longer come when they cry and stop bothering. That’s not a lesson I’m eager to teach our children. Further, I’ve read several accounts of babies who cry inconsolably for days or a week or more, without getting any closer to sleep. All of that isn’t helped by having a *second* baby in the house doing the same thing. We’re not willing to risk that yet.

* * *
Unclear what to try next, I finally pulled out the Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child book again. I re-read some parts that didn’t stick four months ago, and was struck. It says that night waking — or specifically waking but then failing to fall back asleep unassisted — is almost always caused by overtiredness/exhaustion. Babies who have stayed up past becoming drowsy make stress hormones (cortisol) to stay awake longer, and then have trouble falling asleep (again) by themselves. Uh oh.

According to Weissbluth’s data, the average baby (4-11 months old) gets 11 hours of night sleep, plus 3-1/2 hours of daytime nap sleep, for a total of 14-1/2 hours sleep daily. Half of babies get MORE than that. Looking at my iPhone (Total Baby) app data, Sam and Cate nap well enough for 3 to 3-1/2 hours a day. But they only get 8 to 9-1/2 hours overnight, for a total of 11 to 13 hours total sleep daily, which is a LOT less than average. No wonder they’re tired and have an impossible time falling asleep by themselves!

Dr. Weissbluth says that night waking almost always occurs because parents allow bedtime to be too late (after 7 pm, or less than 12 hours from wake-up time) or don’t allow enough time for naps. We have been starting bedtime routines around 7 or 7:30 pm and it often takes an hour (or more!) to soothe wired girls down to sleep, which is way too long/late.

Further, he says that some babies (e.g. Sam) are extremely sensitive to disruptions in their environment or changes to their schedule. He says that consistency is key. Finally, Weissbluth says that if a baby is overtired, that crying it out will not work! (Good to know!)

So… starting immediately, we’re simplifying solids and probably reducing to twice a day only, and eliminating activities that lead to us keeping the babies up too long. We’re going to WORK HARD to get them to bed — meaning asleep — by 7 pm, with morning and afternoon naps on a more-rigid schedule. Our profoundest hope is that getting them more sleep overall will improve/solve the night waking problem without us having to resort to any of the crying methods. Wish us luck!

Nascent language: Connecting pictures to reality

Saturday, August 25th, 2012

As I was reading Fruits of India and Vegetables of India to Sam this evening, it occurred to me that we could go in the kitchen and I could give her real bananas, pears, potatoes, yams, etc. to hold and compare to the photos in the book, so that she might begin to connect that what’s in books is sometimes real. Fun!

Big thanks to our friends, Charlott Card and Doug Childers, for these cool books!

UPDATE: Later, it occurred to me that we can do the same thing — to a limited extent — with some of our other books. While the girls were playing with fuzzy stuffed lambs we got from Gina and Jeff, it occurred to me to open up Moo, Baa, La la la and point to the second cartoon and say, “Sheep! Oveja!”. After a moment to process, both Sam and Cate lit up with big smiles of recognition.

Awesome.

Nascent language: Got milk!

Friday, August 17th, 2012

The Parenting Books say that babies develop “receptive language” — the ability to comprehend words and gestures — long before they are able to speak. During the last few weeks, I’ve seen hints that Sam and Cate are beginning to understand:

  • If you reach down toward them with your palms up and ask “up?”, they reach up toward you to be picked up.
  • If you say, “Come!” or “Ven!”, they will often turn and crawl toward you.
  • If you ask, “Can you touch the bear’s nose?”, they sometimes do.
  • If you say, “No!”, they sometimes stop what they’re doing.

But most of these include gestures, so it hasn’t been entirely clear to me whether they were reacting to the words or our gestures or both. Tonight, they responded to the words!

It was dinner time and we were getting ready to nurse. The girls were playing on the bed with Daddy Bill while I climbed into position. Dad and I were chatting and the girls weren’t paying any attention to me. Finally, I asked, “Who wants milk?” and two heads immediately turned in unison to look directly at me, followed by two girls scrambling eagerly over to the edge of our nursing pillow.

“Milk” is obviously an important word, and one they’ve learned!

Awesome.

Career in Transition, pt. 3

Monday, August 13th, 2012

Well, it’s been almost five months since my last update. The Atlanta opportunity came and went. It was frustrating (and a major red flag) to hear the recruiter say, “we pay for relocation, but some people go ahead and spend the money on a flat screen.” Coming from a person in a company who makes its money by helping its clients quantify value, these words really set my teeth on edge. With perhaps one or two exceptions, it is going to cost a small dump truck of money more to pick up the family and re-settle in a new town than it would cost to get a flat screen TV. Of course, at approximately $900,000, this television would easily cover the cost of the move, plus the cost of its 103″ sibling:

http://www.panasonic.com/business/Plasma/3D/3D-Plasma-TH-152UX1.asp

That being said, I did visit the company’s office for a full day of interviews. Nice people, but they were more focused on pricing optimization for travel and hospitality, where my experience lies more in business-to-business pricing and market strategy.We just didn’t align. I could have helped them expand, but at my career level and in the current economy, most companies are looking for someone who will be “plug and play” into the existing model. So, Atlanta came and went.

A few more opportunities have flared up and died off in the interim. The most serious of which being a product management position at a pricing software company in Austin, and a general market strategy job for a large e-commerce company in Seattle. Ultimately, I did not get the job at the company in Austin because they, too, wanted someone with more operational experience in product management than I possess. This was a telling experience since product management has been one of my core positions for which I’ve been looking, but have had almost no traction in getting interviews. If a company who does pricing software won’t hire me for a product management job, then I am unlikely to get hired by other companies outside of the pricing universe for a similar role.

The Seattle job, on the other hand, is in its own form of stasis, perhaps even outright limbo. I’ve been through several rounds of interviews, all virtual, including meeting with the Senior Vice President who is the boss of the hiring manager. They’ve owed me an invitation to Seattle to come visit the office, and/or some form of outright rejection, but that just hasn’t come. Four weeks ago, the recruiter told me that I was going to be contacted by the hiring manager to schedule an office visit as the last step in the process. Then the recruiter went off on vacation for eight days.

When he got back, a second person had jumped into the interviewing queue, but at the next career level up from what I had interviewed at (Senior Director vs. Director). They indicated that they would know by the end of the week whether they were going to move forward with the other candidate at the higher level. That was supposed to be July 27th, and I haven’t heard anything much more substantive since then. The hiring manager has gone ‘radio silent’ after being fairly chatty over e-mail, which is never a good sign. The recruiter has been fantastic, keeping me up-to-date on some of the internal issues, even if the net effect of those conversations has been, “no news”. From what I can gather, it does not sound like the other candidate knocked their socks off, but they also seem to be going through some form of internal debate about the Director vs. Senior Director issue. I’d be happier with the latter title (bottom of the executive ranks vs. top of the managerial ranks), but getting across that divide also has significant organizational implications, as well.

A third option is local to Houston. A large, established manufacturing conglomerate has poured a few billion dollars into acquisitions into the Oil & Gas industry locally, and it is working on integrating the acquisitions and improving the acquired companies’ performance. Through my network, I found out about a role at one of the divisions that is right up my alley, so I have had several preliminary discussions with the person who was going to be the hiring manager — all prior to the role being formally approved and actually posted. Well, a couple of weeks ago, the role did finally get approved and posted, so my resume has been handed over to the new hiring manager (it got shifted up and over a level), and the person to whom I’d been talking assured me that I’d be getting contacted soon. However, until I start interviewing for real, it’s hard to even count eggs, let alone chickens…

Other opportunities? I went through a preliminary round with a telecom company in Denver (no news for several weeks, so it’s likely dead or passed me by). I found a company in Manchester, UK, that was looking for a pricing leader. It’s doubtful that they can a) afford me, or b) get me a visa, but it’s fun to dream. That company also has a headquarters in Seattle, and the UK-based hiring manager was going to recommend me to the US-based VP who owns pricing. And, oh, yeah, I have a possible opportunity at a large electronics retailer that has popped up, but may or may not amount to anything. There are a few more out there, but not anything worth mentioning at this point. I continue sending out somewhere between 10 – 20 resumes a week (I sent out 16 resumes in one day after I got turned down by the Austin company!). My time in Raleigh is drawing to a rapid, but still uncertain, close, so it would be nice to have the financial security of knowing what’s going on next. Oh, yeah, just for my own sanity, it would also be good to know what’s happening next!

Ten months!

Sunday, August 12th, 2012

Saturday marked ten months since Sam and Cate came out to join us, or almost nine months past their due date. Each month on their birthday, I try to snap a few photos to see how they’re growing and changing over time. I don’t always get them posted here, but I usually manage to take them.

After lunch, my friend Emily and I traded the girls’ onesies for cute gingham frocks and we went out front to shoot some pictures. We brought their bears (a gift from my Dad’s friends, Harold and Carol) with us because the idea of a Teddy Bear Picnic sounded cute to me.

However, between the 95-degree heat and the grass — they apparently don’t like grass — Sam and Cate rapidly became disenchanted with our outing. Here’s what we got (click for larger):


Sam at 10 months


Cate at 10 months

UPDATED: Big thanks to my Jones School classmate, Katya Horner, for color-correcting these shots. In the original shot of Sam, I inadvertently left the white balance set to indoor-flourescent light instead of outside-indirect sun, and Sam looked blue. Katya brightened up the original shot of Cate, too.

When the girls grew upset, Emily suggested that I join them on the quilt (handmade by my Mom’s friend Judith) to keep them happy for a few more photos. I’m neither showered nor dressed for photos, so I look a little out of place:


Bob with Cate and Sam

Finally, Emily invited Bill to come out and join our scene:


Cate, Bill, Sam, and Bob

Both girls are learning so quickly that I can’t chronicle it all here. But here are some of their recent developments in no particular order:

Sam: crawling fast, pulling up to stand, squatting down to pick something up and standing up again, and repeating that circuit with apparently endless endurance. She occasionally jumps enthusiastically up and down while holding onto someone/thing. She’s also waving, carrying things in her mouth so her hands are free to do other things, and will come/crawl over when you call her name and gesture for her to come. She can also put her own Binky in her mouth, and is finally learning to roll around in bed and settle herself into a comfortable position for sleeping.

Cate: crawling, pulling up to stand, then letting go and balancing for 5-9 seconds at a time before holding on again or plopping down on her bottom, lowering herself gently to sitting again, carrying things in her mouth, and bouncing up and down by herself. She can hold items in each hand and bang them together, and bring her hands together as if to clap. She can also insert her own Binky and sometimes flops into some really interesting positions for sleeping. She’s using her new top incisor to make “F” sounds. She’s begun scrunching up her face and snuffling in/out through her nose. She also imitates lots of sounds; for example, if you cough, she coughs. The one I found funniest was a time that I blew my nose on a tissue and she used her mouth to try to copy the sound it made.

Both girls are going through the separation anxiety, I-want-my-parent phase, which is most acute when they’re tired. That makes for especially awkward/loud/prolonged bedtimes (and a sore back from carrying two 17-pound babies) when I’m the only parent in the house.

But when they’re rested, they are eager to explore. Left on the floor, they will play for a while. Then when they’re ready, they’ll set forth for other rooms and new diversions. After 9+ months of handling their every move, I’m finding their willingness to go forth and explore especially satisfying.

My favorite new behavior is laughter. They both notice and laugh at incongruities, new developments, and funny occurrences. The cat grabbed a foil wrapper in his teeth and tossed it across the room. Cate saw him do it and laughed at him. Another time, I sneezed a GIANT sneeze in the middle of nursing, which startled the heck out of Cate but made Sam chortle. I really enjoy their laughter, and I’m eager to see what they learn next.

20-30 seconds of double jeopardy

Sunday, August 5th, 2012

I mentioned that we’re having to find new ways to pass transition time safely. Ten days ago, I realized that if I read to the girls *between* nursing and bottles, that it holds their attention well enough that we can hang out on the bed safely while Daddy/Emily/Sharon/Sheila/Stacy makes bottles.

So this afternoon, we read Sandra Boynton’s Belly Button Book. Elizabeth Hawes gave us the “lap edition” which is big enough for both girls to have lots to look at. (Thank you, Elizabeth!)

One cool thing about the big Boynton books is that they have a die-cut hole in the front cover. When we finished reading the story, we played peek-a-boo through the hole in the cover of the book. (Where’s Sam? Here she is! Donde está Mama? Aquí! Where’s Cate? Peek-a-boo!) The girls LOVE to play it over and over and giggle and giggle.

So there we were, playing Peek-a-boo through the book hole, both girls laughing riotously, when Cate choked. She refluxed and got milk in her airway and she couldn’t breathe. Her face turned pink as she gasped and looked up at me, panicked. I set the book aside and pulled Cate into my lap, trying to reassure her as I willed her to breathe easily again.

In that moment, I caught motion out of the corner of my eye, and turned to see that Sam had turned away from us and dived toward the edge of the bed. I reached out and grabbed her left thigh as her upper body went over the edge. I yelled, “HELP!”, and Bill raced back in from the kitchen to rescue Sam, and returned her to a secure and upright position.

It’s interesting how 10 or 15 seconds around here can change the tone of our whole afternoon. F*ck.

With Sam and Cate both ok again, Bill and I took some deep breaths. Sam, Cate, and I went back to Peek-a-boo while Bill returned to the kitchen and finished making bottles. Afterward, they quietly drank their formula, burped, and resumed playing and crawling on the floor.

Fortunately, the girls are really resilient, and seem none the worse for wear. But I really hate these adrenalizing moments. I will be very, very grateful when Cate and Sam become more adept at self-preservation.