Sunday, November 30, 2014

Toddler brain is tiny, but terrifying at times

“Honey, please don’t scream in my face,” I said.
My 2-year-old reared his head back and threw up his arms in his best Tyrannosaurus Rex pose and screamed — louder this time — an inch from my nose.
It’s not the first time he has displayed some sort of new, unwanted behavior. In fact, we’ve been through pushing, biting, hitting, roaring and fibbing phases — sometimes simultaneously.
When I try to curb unwanted behavior, such as pushing, the shutters come down over those cute baby blues and a scowl that could slay a dragon appears. Once, as I calmly tried to say, “We don’t push our friends,” I barely had the last word out before that dreaded toddler response was screamed at me.
 Ah, independence. Ya gotta love it.
“Honey,” I said gently, “You need to listen to Mama.”
I read somewhere that as brain growth in toddlers is exploding, so is emotional development. That means these little guys are not only learning colors, numbers, letters and the like, but they are experiencing new emotions, such as frustration, fear, anger and disappointment.
The only problem is that they don’t have the self-regulation to control these emotions yet, so their baser instincts usually get the best of them.
One child psychologist wrote that this is why “toddlers are the opposite of civilized human beings.”
That would explain the sudden temper tantrums over seemingly benign things. And why sometimes I’m convinced demon possession is at play.
But how do I make his toddler brain understand that these behaviors are wrong?
Here are some useful tips I found on
• Pick your battles: If you’re always saying no, the child will tune out your priorities
• Know your child’s triggers and remove temptations for unwanted behavior
• Be consistent in your reactions to avoid confusing the child
• Don’t get emotional: If you get angry, that’s all the child will see versus your message
• Keep it short and simple: Speak in short phrases so the child will understand (i.e., “No hitting.”)
• Give a time out: After repeated reprimands, put the child in a time out space for one minute per age
— Sarah Leach is editor of The Holland Sentinel. Contact her at or @SentinelLeach #babyboom.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

No needle is getting in the way of my dream

I am terrified by needles. Like sweaty palms, shallow breathing, I’d-rather-eat-shards-of-glass terrified of needles.
One time when my mother had to take me to urgent care, it took two orderlies to hold down my legs for them to get a blood sample so I didn’t buck myself right off the bed.
Now I put on a good show; I’m even able to carry on a conversation with a phlebotomist like a champ as she takes a sample. I, of course, have to avert my eyes and think of every distraction technique known to man in order not to freak out. Lately I’ve been trying to name all the NHL teams (I’m getting pretty good at it).
So when my fertility treatments recently advanced to the stage of giving myself daily injections, it was a bit of a concern, to say the least.
My doctor and the pharmacist gave me pamphlets and video links and all the things one needs to supposedly feel comfortable with this sort of thing. But, come on, who EVER feels comfortable sticking themselves with a needle?
So it was with barely contained panic when I had to give myself that first injection. I held it over my stomach and froze.
My poor husband, who is even worse than me when it comes to this type of thing (seriously, if this isn’t already a classified phobia, it should be named after him), looked green.
“I don’t know if I can do this,” I said, as I stared at the would-be injection site. “You might need to help me.”
He swallowed down what I can only imagine was a blood-curdling scream and said, “I will do it if you absolutely need me to.”
There was a moment then as I continued to stare at the needle, hovering inches above my skin. Could I do this? Could I overcome 36 years of terror? It’s not like I am diabetic and my life depends on this. But then another thought came: My life does depend on this.
I already know what I would do for my son, all the way up to taking a bullet for him. The thought of holding another baby in my arms is something I would go to the ends of the earth for.
And then I had my answer. I am capable of great strength, and this was no time to chicken out.
“This is for Baby, right?” I whispered, and poked the needle in.
And you know what? It didn’t hurt. At all. As in, I’m not deluding myself into thinking it didn’t hurt. It really didn’t. And I couldn’t have been prouder of myself. Suddenly all the doctor visits, blood draws, ultrasounds and injections don’t seem all that scary.
I can do this. I WILL do this and once I get that baby in my arms, every hurt in the world will have been worth it.
— Sarah Leach is editor of The Holland Sentinel. Contact her at (616) 546-4278 or

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Tricks, treats all part of Halloween lore

The magic of Halloween never ceases to amaze me.
It’s the one night each year where you can transform yourself, and the creative choices are limited only by our imaginations.
When I was a girl, my mother and I, along with my stepbrothers, would canvas our subdivision on a quest to fill our pillowcases full of candy booty. We eagerly anticipated the spooky decorations our neighbors would conceive and it was an added pleasure when said neighbors couldn’t identify us — that meant our costumes were awesome.
Even the parents got into the Halloween spirit — they fretted over costume ideas just as much as us kids. I distinctly remember my mother accompanying us one year in 6-inch heels, fishnet stockings and a wig that perfectly completed her Tina Turner look. She nearly froze to death, but that’s the sacrifice one makes for one’s art on this one night a year.
When we would return home, the candy audit was enacted with flourish. Piles of candy were dumped on the living room floor, and our parents carefully inspected our haul, occasionally deeming one piece or another “not meeting muster” and confiscating the offending treats.
Once we were back to our human selves, we packed up the car and drove to my grandparents’ house, where trick-or-treating was still in full swing. As we drove down the street every year, it always seemed to be the spookiest night of the year. The leaves were gone from the trees that lined the narrow street, and the branches from each side seemed to reach overhead, creating a tree tunnel that set the perfect tenor for the holiday.
Grandma and Grandpa, instead of passing out chocolate or candy delights, opted instead to hand out nickels. I thought that strange at the time — I mean who wants boring money over culinary delights — but now I recognize its brilliance (no wonder their house was one of the most popular on the block).
 Yes, Halloween is a holiday that is steeped in tradition, and these are treasured experiences I want my son, who is now nearing 3 years old, to have. I will make sure he has a costume each year, and I will dress up as well in a show of solidarity. All I ask is a candy commission.
— Sarah Leach is editor of The Holland Sentinel. Contact her at (616) 546-4278 or

Sunday, October 19, 2014

A simple meal can make a tradition

Ever since I can remember, there was Sunday breakfast.
Some of my earliest memories are from the small Greek-American restaurant we faithfully visited every Sunday as a way for our family to reconnect.
There was the time I was 9 and tried ketchup on my scrambled eggs for the first time, mirroring the tastes of my stepfather. It turned into an intense, if short-lived, obsession.
Or the time when I was 7 and my mother discovered I was stealing coffee creamer and drinking the little cups in the bathroom.
Then there was the time I befriended a lovely elderly couple, the Parkses, who looked forward to my visit to their table every week so much that they gifted me with a quarter regularly.
After a decade, we branched out and began to try new eateries, but the core mission was still in tact: keeping the family in touch, regardless of how crazy life gets.
But a three-hour drive sort of puts the kibosh on my ability to regularly attend Sunday breakfast with the family, and it saddens me that my son will not be exposed to the same beloved tradition.
Then something amazing happened: My in-laws suddenly proposed to start up a Sunday breakfast tradition of our own. For the past few weekends, we have been getting together, taking turns to host at the three households that comprise my West Michigan family, and make breakfast for all seven of us.
It’s a new twist on my former habits, but it’s such a welcome addition to our lives, and I know it’s nothing but a great thing for my boy.
In a world where we all get caught up in hectic nature of work, school, house projects, etc., it’s amazing when a group of this size can coordinate some time to sit with one another, eat great food and talk about our lives.
This is an ideal that often is promoted in television shows, but something reality rarely lives up to. But, with a little bit of effort in making some time for each other, my son has a great shot at having many of his first memories much the same way I did — surrounded by people he loves, sharing in his highs and lows — one week at a time.
— Sarah Leach is editor of The Holland Sentinel. Contact her at (616) 546-4278 or

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Seeds of bad habits can be planted early

“I smokin’.”

I looked up from the laundry bin I was putting clothes into as my 2-year-old came into the bedroom.

“I smokin’,” he repeated.

He had a giant plastic bolt — far too big to be a choking hazard — sticking out of his mouth. I watched in horror as he breathed in deeply, removed the toy from his mouth and blew out into the air.

“Where did you learn that?” I cried, but he was already running out of the room, oblivious to my panic.

I racked my brain to try to figure out just where he would have been exposed to people smoking.

No one in our families smoke, he spends his daytime hours in the comfort of a completely smoke-free daycare and smoking in businesses and restaurants has never been legal in this state for his entire life.

So … it begs the question: Where did he get exposed to smoking? And not only that, but how did he know what it was called and know enough to imitate it?

The only conclusion we could come to was media exposure, and we are now being more vigilant than ever about what he sees on television. But what else has he seen — that I would rather he not — that he isn’t verbalizing yet?

It’s terrifying to think about what else he’s picking up as he studies the world around him, absorbing so much along the way. And it’s impossible to know what lessons or truths he is taking away with those observations.

For example, when I was a girl, I had a grandfather who smoked heavily. I didn’t know him to be any other way. In my late teens, I took up smoking; I’m sure, in part, it was the early exposure to it and the fact that seeing someone I loved do it made it somewhat permissible.

Then again, I had a cousin who also shared this grandfather, and it had the opposite effect. The boy asked grandpa repeatedly to quit and even went so far as to having no-smoking signs attached to his bedroom door (I gotta hand it to the kid — he was committed).

I’ve been smoke-free for nearly a decade, and haven’t really even though about it just as long. I thought when we started our family that it was enough to keep my kiddo away from direct exposure to cigarettes, but now I realize that exposure can be much more subtle and still very effective.

Even commercials on television nowadays features adult themes — even under the guise of tongue-in-cheek humor — we never saw 30 years ago.

There’s still no way to know what is going on in that little, beautiful brain of his. I will start by reinforcing that smoking is yucky, and do everything I can to influence him into healthy habits, but honestly I never imagined I would be having this talk with a toddler.

— Sarah Leach is editor of The Holland Sentinel. Contact her at (616) 546-4278 or

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Parent’s curse amusing, if not exasperating

“You will be destined to have at least one child exactly like you.”
I can’t remember the first time I heard what my grandmother teasingly dubbed “the parent’s curse,” but I know it was mentioned several times during my childhood.
It wasn’t something I paid much mind to back in those times. It was funny to think about eventually having a son or daughter that was just like me: nerdy, verbal and, above all, excruciatingly sensitive. It was so comical, in fact, that I dismissed the notion for decades, for surely such talk was nothing more than an old wives’ tale.
Fast forward to present day with my darling 2-year-old.
Now, there’s no way to know yet if he inherited my nerd gene, and although he is extremely vocal, his vocabulary is still quite limited. But one thing is for certain: He is sensitive — boy howdy is he sensitive.
It can be a look of disapproval that sends him into a 10-minute tailspin — only to have him snap out of it when something else diverts his attention.
The mercurial nature of such creatures is not to be underestimated. I find myself having bizarre conversations, trying to explain things to a mind that can’t even grasp the use of conjunctions and articulation.
A few days ago, we were quietly watching television and a commercial came on for a chain of restaurants that offered breakfast sandwiches.
Son: “I want have breakfast sammich.”
Me: “No, honey. It’s 10 minutes to bedtime and you already ate.”
Son: “I want have breakfast sammich!”
Me: “Sweetie, we don’t have breakfast sandwiches.”
Son: “Breakfast sammich! Aaaaaahhhhh!”
Me: “We’ll go to the store and get some this weekend.”
Seriously? Like my 2-year-old, who just had the feral instincts of a jungle cat for that sausage sandwich is going to appreciate the nature of time, space and grocery list planning in order to calmly accept the fact that he won’t get what he wants?
I’m only beginning to grasp what I put my poor mother through with my similar tendencies as a tot — the stories of my moody nature are legendary around the Thanksgiving Day table.
I’m sure she’s smiling down, knowing that now I get to contend with my perfect, little capricious clone.
— Sarah Leach is editor of The Holland Sentinel. Contact her at (616) 546-4278 or

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Taming the dreaded toilet training

When I first became a mother, I couldn’t wait for several milestones. I watched with wonder as the developmental hurdles kept coming, and I couldn’t have been happier.
But I never thought I would get hung up on one milestone in particular — the milestone all parents must start pining for right around the time their child reaches the 2-and-a-half-year mark: When will the never-ending parade of diapers end?
I think human development is structured in a way where we become potty-trained right around the time our parents approach the point of snapping if they have to empty a dirty diaper bin one more time.
If biology didn’t work with such synchronicity, we probably would have some sort of syndrome named for parents who curl up into little balls at the mere thought of having to change one more stinking diaper.
I feel the Diaper Craze gripping me now.
And, as if the diaper-changing gods heard my unspoken prayers, my son finally took interest.
“Momma, I wanna do poop on the potty!”
Now, my son has said many things to me in his short life that have made my heart nearly burst at the seams with love. When he first said, “Momma,” I thought my rib cage would break with love. When he could finally say, “I love you,” it was an amazing day.
But I have to admit that him expressing interest in the glorious workings of the toilet makes the top five. In fact, I’ve never looked more forward to a poop in my life.
And I gave him his just reward: A Sour Patch Kids. He quickly realized the incentive-based system could be very beneficial for his sweet tooth. For the past week, we have had great success.
Now, we’re not there yet, and it will take time to get the training fully implemented, but this milestone is one that I will be celebrating in perpetuity.
— Sarah Leach is editor of The Holland Sentinel. Contact her at (6161) 546-4278 or