Draining. Delightful. Clingy. Spirited. High needs.

The High Needs Baby

“As long as we hold her, she’s content” became our baby-care slogan.

(Martha Sears)

Parenting our third child has been nothing like parenting our boys. From the moment she showed up on a blood test, our girl has kept us on our toes. The word that I often use to describe how I feel about the last 16 months + 9 months in utero is “bamboozled.” I was totally caught off guard that I had even gotten pregnant. I was surprised my body even stayed pregnant given it’s history for miscarriage, followed by all the drama that started us on this road to meet our girl. I was caught off guard at how much my body betrayed me for 9 months. I was so sick. Cardiologists, endocrinologists, maternal fetal specialists, hematologists. I could barely care for myself, much less our boys. They took care of me most days. Being a “seasoned” mom, I knew what I was in for with the newborn phase…..or so I thought. I expected the exhaustion of the early weeks. I knew the potential struggles with breastfeeding because I’d battled mastitis, plugged ducts, sudden loss of milk supply, mom guilt, pumping on-the-go, etc. I thought we were somewhat prepared for the “parenting” part of this pleasant surprise we’d been given. We were not.

The High Needs Baby

Eila girl has been hard to describe from the beginning. In utero she was quite different from my pregnancies with the boys, obviously, since I felt like she almost killed me from the inside. And then when she made her appearance she struck us all with how alert she was in the first few minutes of life. Her eyes were wide open and locked onto her brothers like she knew exactly who they were, how much they adored her, and exactly what they were saying. It was a very sweet interaction. And that’s how I would describe her mostly, very sweet. But that attentiveness in the first few moments outside the womb, along with her constant movements in utero, would be the first few signs that our girl was not going to be like her brothers.

During my short postpartum hospital stay, I could barely put her down. I wouldn’t describe her as extremely fussy mostly because her cry was sweet, not shrill, and easy to calm. She just seemed like a brand new baby who needed her mama and I was ok with that since I was still riding the euphoric wave of baby hormones. It was an exhausting experience. Especially after being so exhausted for the past 9 months. 

Eila was also the first of our three babies to have an extended skin-to-skin experience immediately after birth. Marc and I joke that she is still having a “skin-to-skin” experience because nobody told her it was over. And some days I joke that she would just crawl right back up in there if I let her. In the weeks after her birth we slept sometimes only in minutes long stretches. Minutes. Not hours. And usually sitting up. She had reflux from the very beginning. She was (and still is) the lightest sleeper we’ve ever had. And, to make matters worse, we lived in an apartment below a herd of elephants for the first year of her life. So sleep was not going to happen. But we kept holding out hope that it wouldn’t always be that way. She was brand new, adjusting to her world, struggling with silent reflux, and we wouldn’t always live in the apartment. I would adjust my diet to help with her reflux, we would sleep in whatever setup worked best to help her settle and it would all work itself out. Besides, we’d already parented two kids with sensory struggles. We could figure her out.

The High Needs Baby

In the meantime, while she was emptying my cup, she was also filling it in a way that I never imagined. She was the sweetest little thing right from the beginning. She smiled all the time and loved being near me in a way that was both maddening and fulfilling. I wouldn’t have described her as a colicky or even a fussy infant. But she had opinions about things from the beginning and one of them was her proximity to me.

In the months that followed we did not find a reliable solution to her reflux (she mostly grew out of it around a year old, but still has some moments). Instead we juggled various food sensitivities, a few scary trips to the ER, and some environmental sensitivities. I eliminated so many foods from my diet that I felt like I was mostly taking in air and water. And we added no extra sleep to the mix. She woke multiple times a night, with the worst nights leaving me (or the mister) with an hour sleep, not always in consecutive minutes. We were exhausted from trying to figure out what to feed her, what triggered her sensitivities through my breastmilk, how to get her to sleep, and how to balance the family dynamic with her needing 100% of my attention.

The High Needs Baby

Then, there were all the well-meaning people who offered up their solutions, most of which we had already tried. Eila girl didn’t fit the description of any of the babies in the baby books or on the parenting blogs. She wasn’t colicky. She didn’t really cry all that much if you met her needs. When she woke at night she was happy as a clam, as long as you got up, fed her, rocked her back to sleep, and CAREFULLY laid her back in her crib. She’d be up again soon to do the exact same thing. And again. And again. But she wasn’t inconsolable like a baby with colic. Her needs were easy to identify, for the most part, and if you met them she was quite diplomatic.

While we were driving ourselves crazy trying to figure out the best solutions for our core family, many on the outside of our four walls suggested a sort of “tough love.” Which was often the advice we received in the early years with the boys’ sensory struggles. Parenting can be so political, can’t it? Many unsolicited opinions were harmless and well-meaning but when you’re extremely sleep deprived and mentally drained from trying ALL the things to adjust to the new personality in your home, it can feel like a kick in the crotch. It’s made even worse when those around you have never heard of a thing like Sensory Processing Disorder or High Needs Baby. I’ve been on the receiving end of many an eye roll at the two descriptors as they’re brushed off as some sort of parenting hooey that doesn’t really exist except in the mind of the over-protective parent. Equally as frustrating is the comment that their child/grandchild/friend’s child “does that too and it’s totally normal and doesn’t make them a high needs anything or sensory overloaded whatever.”

Luckily, we’ve grown a thick skin over the years and have learned to trust what we know about our children based on what they tell us through their habits and behaviors. The last 10 years with sensory kids has taught us to pay attention, be compassionate, and really dig deep to understand others. That’s invaluable in my opinion and my children have made me are making me a better person by showing me daily that it isn’t all about me nor is it about what other people are doing. They prepared me to be compassionate when Eila girl came along, slow down, and try to find the specific ways she needs to be loved. Because she is definitely her own person. Big personality. High needs. But I believe the sleepless nights, the cluster feedings, the constant need for touch, and the opinions she’s developing about her world will ultimately blossom into a confident young woman who knows what she wants, isn’t afraid to ask for it, and can do so in a way that is gentle and empathetic if we only pay attention, listen to how the Lord would have us parent our children, and sleep when she sleeps. 😉

On a related note, I don’t blog much at all anymore because… well, {see above}… but I hope to get more posts written about our journey with our High Needs baby in the hopes that others might find encouragement. Because, if there’s anything I could use more of on this journey it’s encouragement. Encouragement that I’m not alone. Encouragement that it’s not my parenting, not made up, and not a negative thing but a blessing. So, if I need that, I’m sure there are others out there who need it, too. And maybe we can prop each other up. A bit of a Forrest and Bubba situation, if you will.

“I’m gonna lean up against you, you just lean right back against me. This way, we don’t have to sleep with our heads in the mud. You know why we a good partnership, Forrest? ‘Cause we be watchin’ out for one another. Like brothers and stuff.”

The High Needs Baby

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We’ve just begun our summer intensive session of school for grades 1.5 and 4.5 and I thought I’d share the resources I’ve collected for our journey through the Middle Ages.

I’ll share more in another post on our complete plans for the summer but I wanted to go ahead and share my Medieval library with you in case you need a book for that time period. The books listed below are not for one specific age group or grade level but, in general, are kid appropriate. Please read the book’s detailed description to determine if it might suit the needs of your child. I’ve listed everything from picture books to chapter books to coloring books and reference books. This is a huge library of books so hopefully there’s something to help you along in your study of the Middle Ages. Let me know if you have a favorite Middle Ages book and I’ll add it to the list.

*note: The library is animated and will fade in and out to reveal more books. If you’d like to view the library in list form without the animation click here.  This library uses affiliate links. 

 

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On March 29th, the day our boys turned 7 and 10, we loaded up the biggest Penske truck we could find (for the third time in 3 years) and moved out of state. And on March 31st we signed approximately 6 billion pieces of paper that officially made us homeowners again. I signed my papers from the comfort of our minivan because I picked up some kind of wicked funk on the drive down and spent the night before the closing hugging the hotel toilet. It wasn’t pretty. After nearly 3 months of shopping for a home in another state, signing, scanning, and emailing one billion documents to our lender nearly every day for 45 days, and always waiting for the other shoe to drop….I was finally at the finish line….with my barf bag. It wasn’t how I had imagined it all going down. But, the truth is, I hadn’t really imagined making it past the initial offer on the home. Only 3 years after foreclosure and we were actually buying a house?! It just didn’t seem like it was going to happen. But it did. And, aside from Barf Fest 2017, it all went off without a hitch.

We are officially homeowners again! I feel restored, renewed, and oh so thankful. It was a hard and weird 3 years. You can read the story of our first home here. It’s taken me longer to let my guard down and get excited than I thought it would. I hadn’t realized how many walls I had put up to protect myself from disappointment. Apparently they were big walls because, even when it was obvious this was happening, I just couldn’t really let myself get excited. Staying pragmatic about it all was my main defense.

But when we broke out the power tools that had been gathering dust for the past 3 years, I felt a little more excited. There was no one to tell us we couldn’t paint or remove trim or add landscaping. It was ours. We could make it our own. So the Mister played along and helped me add a few touches I had been squirreling away on my pinterest board. There’s a sneak peak at the end of this post, and if you follow me on instagram then you’ve already seen a lot of what we’ve been doing in the room that will serve as our homeschool/library. But I’ll put together a separate post for that project with all the pictures.

The house we bought is a stone’s throw from our little downtown area which always seems to be bustling with some festival or event. It’s super cute and the boys love our park (seen in the top left and the right picture). The mister commutes to work in Orlando, not too far away to enjoy the fun stuff but just far enough away to get away from the crazy tourist scene. We’re in an area that local Floridians consider “country.” But I’m not sure Georgians who live in the “country” would consider this very rural at all. It is the prettier part of Central Florida though, if you ask me. There are orange, grapefruit, lemon, and lime groves everywhere.  And our house is on a canal that opens out into a pretty big lake. We can fish right off of our private dock or take our little boat out into the lake to catch the bigger fish (that’s right, our house came with a boat!! How cool is that?!). We’ve seen alligators, turtles, great blue herons, whistling ducks, bald eagles, and red shouldered hawks right in our back yard. We have more lizards in our yard, of every size and color, than you can imagine. And they scurry everywhere when you walk through the yard. I’m cool with them as long as they gobble up the mosquitoes. The sandhill cranes are everywhere you look and I just love their long skinny legs. Our canal opens into Trout Lake so we are able to drive the boat over and dock at Trout Lake Nature Preserve. Nature study won’t be a problem here, for sure! We can’t eat the fish in our lake or canal (there’s an agricultural run off clean up under way and various ongoing testing to monitor the fish), but we can catch and release all day long. It’s been fun to see the boys so excited about fishing and boating. I started a hashtag to document our adventures at our new home. If you’d like to follow along on Instagram it’s #lifeatthecanalhouse.

This girl hasn’t been in the boat yet because she thinks a life jacket is a baby torture device! I imagine she wouldn’t be too keen on it anyway since it’s loud so we hang back while the boys go out.

She’s had a bit of a hard time adjusting to life after the move. All of our children are great travelers but I think she keeps wondering when we’re going “home.” She’s starting to settle a bit more now but she still has moments that just don’t seem like her sweet self. She can’t understand why her mom is so busy and doesn’t have time for snuggling all the live long day like we did in the apartment. She’s woken up a few nights crying pretty hard. I think she forgets where she is for a minute. And she’s taken to skipping real naps and instead, sleeping where she falls. But, now that we’ve gotten most of the boxes unpacked she’s been able to explore the common areas of the house a little more and she loves her new found freedom. Likes: seashells, seabirds, running down the hall and squealing at her brothers, whatever I’m eating, and our new park downtown. Dislikes: Sand, waves, being hot, and lifejackets. Hmmm….oops. The Georgia girl is not a Florida girl just yet.

My main goal whenever we move is to organize the area we’ll use for school first. I feel very uprooted and disorganized when our school supplies are scattered everywhere. If the school area gets addressed first then I can get the boys going on a project and get a few things done in other areas of the home while they’re occupied. And if there’s anything I’ve learned from the last three years and two other cross-state moves it’s that we don’t wait to start school….ever. Because goodness, life happens. So we do a little school all the time. And during big life events we do what the wise Julie Bogart calls “backend planning” where we count everything as school, but only AFTER it’s done.

And, wouldn’t you know it, only 3 weeks after moving in we had a sprinkler pipe crack and we will be repairing that today. Good thing I already have the school books on the shelves and the play-doh and art supplies are easily accessible to keep little hands and minds busy while we work. Although, I don’t think they care much for anything in the schoolroom when there’s a fresh pile of dirt to make sand (dirt?) castles out of. Thank goodness this isn’t a broken pipe in Georgia clay. That hole would’ve taken a lot longer and resulted in a few bent shovels. Yay for sandy Florida soil!

I have a million and one projects I want to finish but I’ve had to reign in my slowly growing enthusiasm for the sake of my wallet, the other less romantic household chores that need tending to, and to get in some quality snuggles with my girl. In three weeks we’ve (playing it fast and loose with the term “we” since the mister is the only one of us who knows what ALL of those marks are on the tape measure) built a faux fireplace, primed, painted, and sealed our Ikea Expedit shelves, DIY’d a couple of chalkboards, shiplapped a faux chimney, sanded and primed a dining room table and chairs, and repaired (TBD) a sprinkler pipe, put together a couch and love seat, and unpacked one gazillion boxes. That’s a lot of homeowner-ing for three short weeks.

I’ll try to get a post together with some before and after shots of the front room that we’re calling the library. It’s not “technically” finished. We’re not on speaking terms with our miter saw and crown molding right now. And the fireplace still needs decorative trim work on the front doors and another coat of paint and polycrylic. The decor isn’t in it’s final resting place, nor is some of it even staying in that room. But it looks great so far so I’ll share where we’re at with it soon.

I’ve scheduled our summer intensive for homeschool to begin on May 1st. Fingers crossed I make that deadline because we’re all antsy to jump back into it. I’ll try to get a post up with our schedule and book picks soon. I’ve added a library page to the blog so you can easily find amazon links to the books we’re using in homeschool, what I’m reading for my own mother culture, and what we’ve read in the past. I’m still working out the kinks so if a grown up book shows up in the homeschool section, forgive me.

Thanks for popping in. It’s good to be back!

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My One Little Word for 2015 was grace. Boy, I had no idea how much of it I would need. I had wanted to be the one projecting grace. But God had a much more humbling plan for me. Mr. Thistle’s job that moved us to Nashville came to an abrupt end, we moved back to Georgia in the middle of an ice storm, the mister’s new job required quite a lot of travel (we’d spent the last 10 years mostly never apart so this was a bit of a shock to our system), we found out I was pregnant 3 months later because #wivesoftravelingmisters, and I became pretty ill due to a number of pregnancy complications. I spent most of 2015 housebound and alone. I could barely muster up the energy to brush my teeth let alone socialize over coffee with friends or make playdates for the boys. I spent 2015 just trying to keep my head above water.

One little word

Grace.

Didn’t give much, needed a whole lot, found it in the most unlikely places (usually from a very compassionate 6 and 9 year old who made me one proud mama all year).

I didn’t even try to pick a word when 2016 rolled around. I surely have a lot of words to describe it now that I’m at the end of it: 

Hard. Exhausting. Refining. Revealing.

Based on my Instagram feed I’d say a lot of people are ready to be done with 2016. It was a tough year. There were a lot of moments that left me disenchanted with humanity. It seemed as if world events just kept coming at us, punching us in the gut, kicking us when we were down.

But that was outside our home. Inside our 4 walls there were a lot of moments that could’ve made my heart burst had they been any fuller. I am constantly amazed at how kind and compassionate the boys are. They really had to prop their mama up last year and adjust to life with a brand new baby sister this year. They had to do a lot of growing up in the last two years and I’m so proud of them for handling it so well. The world might’ve been crumbling around us but dang if my core family wasn’t steady and strong!

I’m starting to gush and get off topic here though.

The point is 2015 and 2016 brought a lot more than I expected. I had no idea how God would use my one little word – grace. And, to be honest, 2017’s word wasn’t even on my radar. So much has happened in the last two years, so much revealed, so much that caught me off guard spiritually, physically, relationally, that I’ve been in a bit of a stupor.

But the other night, lying in bed, it hit me. Loud and clear.

Be.

There are so many things I want to be. A peaceful mom, a less nagging wife, a better friend, a better Christian, more organized, a “real” artist, more patient.

And I always feel like I hold a yard stick up to those things and say, “nope, not quite there” and then I get discouraged and let myself think that, because I fall a little short (or a lot), I’m none of those at all. Just an imposter who wants to be those things but really isn’t.

Too often I lament to Mr. Thistle that I want to be this or be that but there’s never enough time/money/resources and I camp out in the land of “if only” and get a bad case of “the grass is always greener.”

Before I was a mom I liked to immerse myself in things. If I was going to do something it was all or nothing. The reality is, as a mom of 3, that mentality leaves a lot of goals falling in the “nothing” column. I can’t always give something my full attention. In fact, I rarely have time to indulge in full-attention activities. I might have to scratch out a doodle while the baby sleeps in my arms. Or listen to a podcast while navigating the wilds of Atlanta traffic on the way to hockey practice. I might have to settle for one chapter of a book at a time rather than devouring it in one or two readings. If I wait until I have long, uninterrupted stretches of time to focus on the things I want to do I’ll never do them.

So this year I’m throwing out my yard stick and I’m just going to try to Be. Even if it doesn’t live up to my standard. I’m going to start being who God says I am and measure it by His standard. Are my intentions pure? Is it beneficial for my family? Good for personal/spiritual growth? Is it fulfilling a call? And, I’m going to roll over my word that carried me through 2015-2016 and give myself the grace to just Be.

one little word
Be creative.

Be patient.

Be organized.

Be obedient.

Be gentler.

Be disciplined.

Be better.

Be brave.

Be bold.

And when I fall short, because I will, I’ll Be ready to rely on the Lord’s strength, rather than my own to get me back on track.

The one thing I’ll never be? Perfect.

So I’m to let go of striving for perfection before I can claim to Be something and I’m just going to try to be who God already says I am.

This year I’m telling myself to stop talking about being something and just Be it already.

You wanna be a blogger? Then be a blogger! Who cares if you only blog once a quarter?! Still a blogger.

You wanna be organized? Be organized! Who cares if your desk is a mess right now? Get up and do the next thing to move closer to the goal.

Yes, I’m 33 and I still don’t have a great system for dealing with laundry. But this year I’m claiming that I’ll be better.

The good news is that most of the things I want to Be are a matter of perspective and attitude. And those are things that I don’t need resources or time or money to achieve. My word for 2015-2016 actually props up my word for 2017. There’s grace given while I work on who I want to be.

Thank goodness.

Here’s to 2017 being better than 2016.

 

 

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