Sunday, April 19, 2015

Nothing’s fishy like picking a new pet

We are pet people through and through.
When my husband and I first met, I had four cats (yes, I realize how that looks). Together we also acquired two dogs, a purebred puppy and an older shelter dog. Sure, having six pets was a lot of work, but hands down it was totally worth it.
And through natural attrition, we are now down to two cats and one dog. One of my concerns when he started having human children (yes, my pets are my babies, too) was whether the stress of having an infant around would be tough for the four-legged children.
Those worries turned out to be unwarranted. Through lots of coaching about “soft touches” and “no tail pulling,” we came through the baby age relatively unscathed. My son, 3, now even has his first household chore: feed the dog.
It’s a daily disaster. There’s a massive dog food bin, where he unscrews the top and finds a scooper inside. Despite my attempts to get him to take small scoops, bigger is always better for my boy, and he insists on getting heaping scoopfuls. This usually equates into dog kibble skittering all over my kitchen floor.
But it’s a job he treasures, so we dutifully vacuum up the chaos until the next day.
Now I’m thinking he might be ready for his first pet that is all his own.
Through my research — OK, extensive Googling, really — I learned that having a pet can be quite beneficial for developing children’s social skills. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry says having pets for children helps develop self-esteem and self-confidence and can aid in creating trusting relationships with others. There also are indicators that say having pets around children helps little ones develop non-verbal communication, compassion and empathy.
But what kind of pet would be good for a 3-year-old? On a recent trip to Meijer, inspiration hit: a goldfish. I can imagine it now — little Goldie swimming around, my tot gently pinching in the fish flakes, him whispering his childhood secrets to his finned friend.
In reality, it will be more like him dumping an entire container of flakes into the bowl and yelling for Goldie to do more than just swim — and I can only imagine how many Goldies we will go through to keep up the charade.
It’s a small price to pay for boosting your kid’s self-esteem, right? How hard can one more pet be (whimper)?
— Sarah Leach is editor of The Holland Sentinel. Contact her at or on Twitter @SentinelLeach.

Monday, April 6, 2015

‘Tired’ doesn’t even begin to cover it

One of the questions I field most frequently is, “How are you feeling?”

Usually, this is just one of those obligatory niceties and no one expects you to go into your gripes about sleep or nausea or stretch marks. In polite company, you are expected to say you’re doing well so no one has to worry too much about you and everyone can go about their day.

In my situation — I’m at the 22-week mark in my pregnancy — and I have to be honest, I’ve been lying to people for the most part.

Now, it’s not like I’m having an awful go of it. Millions of women have severe morning sickness at some point in their pregnancy — although why they call it “morning sickness” when it strikes at just about any time of day is beyond me — and I’m a lucky duck as far as that’s concerned.

And I feel like I don’t have much of a right to complain at all. After all, anyone who reads this column knows I tried to get pregnant for two years and fought long and hard along the fertility treatment path to happiness. So after all that, I’m pretty sure I’m a schmuck to whine at all.

The only reason I even bring it up is because I feel like I’m outright lying to people, even my closest friends and family.

The truth is I’m tired. I mean drop-dead, bone-weary tired. Sure I’m not sick per se, but for the past month I’ve felt like I can barely do anything. I walk across the room and I’m wiped out. I fold a load of laundry and I need a nap. Someone suggests any sort of outing that involves me getting out of a vehicle and moving any part of my body and I have an entire inner-monologue session to convince myself that no, this is not, in fact, a death sentence.

I just don’t know how I did this the first time around. I first pregnancy was a dream. It was my regular life with the addition of some kicks, a waddle and some heartburn. This time around, I can barely get everything done.

Maybe it’s because I’m older. Someone suggested it’s because I’m already a mom this time around. My theory is that I have a parasite. Not trypanosomiasis (otherwise known as African sleeping sickness); I mean a literal parasite sucking everything it can out of me to grow big and strong.

I say that with no malice in my heart. What baby wants, baby gets. But now that I just wrote a 400-word-plus column, I’m pretty drained. I think I’ll just lay down for a bit.

— Sarah Leach is editor of The Holland Sentinel. Contact her at or on Twitter @SentinelLeach.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Sleepless nights return a little ahead of schedule

Ask any parent of small children what they miss most from their pre-children days?

Sleep. Glorious, beautiful sleep.

Now, I’m not an idiot. I knew the sleep-sacrifice tradeoff when we started our family.

But I have been spoiled beyond belief in the sleep department. My 3-year-old started sleeping through the night when he was just 8 weeks old, and I can count how many times he’s woken me up in the night since he turned 1 on one hand.

Try not to hate me.

Anyway, I also know that, with another baby coming this summer, my little sleep bubble was going to burst — big-time.

So, color me surprised when my nocturnal interruptions arrived five months early.

On the first night of this fantastic new phase, my toddler came out of his room at 5 a.m., saying he had “bonked his head.” I assumed he meant he fell out of his bed and calmly walked him back to bed, tucked him in and lay with him for a few minutes until he drifted off.

On the next night at about the same time, I awoke to my boy standing over me in the dark. And just as a side note, it’s not creepy at all that every child younger than 6 breathes with the ferocity of a mythical dragon — seriously, why do they all pant like serial killers?

This time his story was that he fell and hurt his leg. I had my suspicions, but did my motherly duty and repeated the routine from the previous night.

By the third night — this time at 3 a.m. — he said it was too dark in his room. My first thought, after cursing the sleep gods, was that his nightlight burned out. No such luck: That baby was still burning as bright as a Christmas tree when we got into his room.

“It was too dark, huh?” I asked him.

“It was,” he nodded sagely.

We climbed back into his bed and I snuggled up to him, planning on a max of 10 minutes before I slinked back to my room.

It wasn’t more than six minutes into us being snuggled in when my son, eyes closed, pulled the blanket out of his mouth and said, “You can go now.”

I was shocked, because I knew in that moment that for the past three nights I totally got played. Touché, toddler, touché.

But a word of advice, little man: When your baby brother or sister comes along, those screams will wake up the whole household at night. Sweet dreams, Stinker.

— Sarah Leach is editor of The Holland Sentinel. Contact her at or find her on Twitter at @SentinelLeach.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

‘Second kid’ ride is at a much slower speed

There’s a great ad campaign by Luvs, the diaper line, where they show moms’ experiences with “first kids” and “second kids.”
One commercial shows a little girl approaching a first-time mom asking to hold the baby. The mom asks the girl to put anti-germ lotion on her hands, and then her arms and then on her neck and … well you get the idea. Then the ad reverts to the “second kid” experience, where she hands her baby to a greasy-handed mechanic while she roots around in her purse for her checkbook.
Yeah, I can definitely see how this parallel is going to play out in my household.
This pregnancy is completely different than the first rodeo. I’m healthy and blessedly not plagued by morning sickness, so there’s a lot to be thankful for — but there are differences.
For one, my energy level is nowhere near where it was four years ago for “first kid.” Back then, I was working nights and could work 12 hours, stay up until 2 a.m., get six hours of sleep and go back at it.
This time around, I get winded if I walk from one end of the house to the other. I’m not sure if it’s because we have a child already or if it’s a reflection of my age (I am days away from turning 37), but half the time I feel like I’ve been hit by a Mack truck.
For “first kid,” I dragged my husband to every baby store within a 60-mile radius, creating registries and lists and researching every product from soaps to car seats.
This go-round, I’m hoping that a throwing everything from “first kid” into the dishwasher or washing machine will be adequate prepping.
For “first kid,” we did that cutesy thing where we photographed my tummy from the side to document the growing bump, as my flat(ish) tummy expanded slowly but surely. Of course we posted the whole album on Facebook toward the end to share all our obnoxious happiness with the world.
This time, I was nearly ecstatic that my condition would explain away my fat. I’m four months along now, and I like to think that my pregnancy is finally catching up to my girth. (I’ve looked four months pregnant for about a year now.)
But let’s not dwell too much on the negative — there are awesome things about “second kid” already. For one, I’m not nearly as nervous as the first time. Everything is much more laid-back, which allows for a much lower stress level. I also know what I can and can’t do, meaning no fretting with 500 questions at each doctor visit. And this time a planned C-section takes away a lot of anxiety about the birth.
Yes, “second kid” is being very kind to me, as if he or she can already sense that Momma needs to catch a break. Love that kid.
— Sarah Leach is editor of The Holland Sentinel. Contact her at or on Twitter @SentinelLeach.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Big boy breaks in a big bed

In parenting, there are big victories, and then there are little ones.
And any self-respecting mother will not quibble over the mini-ones. A win is a win. Period.
In the midst of Pregnancy Prep 2.0, one of the instructions I got from the doctor was to avoid lifting objects of 40 pounds or more. (At the time my pregnancy was confirmed, an ovarian cyst also was discovered, hence the extra precaution.)
The only problem? My 3-year-old weighs 35 pounds and is growing like a weed. Compound that with the fact that he’s still sleeping in the crib in the nursery, which in exactly 6 months, will be occupied by a new resident.
So we had to act fast to get our toddler moved to his new “big boy” room.
I know changing spaces at this age can be a delicate process, so I constructed an elaborate plan that spanned several weekends.
First, I needed to clear out all the clutter and junk that was residing in that room. Next, we moved in the bed and dresser, bought a new mattress and got fresh bedding.
Next, I moved all his clothes into that room, so he would start to realize it was his space, at least on some level and that we needed to go in there for part of his daily routine.
He seemed indifferent to the whole process, and I remained skeptical that this transition would happen prior to Number 2’s arrival.
So I sweetened the pot and moved all his toys over. That seemed to get his attention. Suddenly he was splitting his time between the “big boy” room and the “regular” room.
Within the next week, I dared to test out if he was willing to sleep in the new space.
When I turned out the lights for the first time, he freaked and said it was too dark. I had a stroke of genius and grabbed the small string of Christmas lights from the nursery and plugged it in.
And that was it. Seriously. All that build up; I was totally prepared for psychological warfare stretched out over months.
Like I said, a win is a win. I won’t be looking this gift horse in the mouth.
— Sarah Leach is editor of The Holland Sentinel. Contact her at or find her on Twitter @SentinelLeach.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Big brother can’t quite grasp big news

Now that the cat is out of the proverbial bag and we have outed ourselves as expecting parents once again, there is much to be done.
But before totes of newborn clothes and burp cloths get hauled out of the basement, first things first: Explaining the new baby to our 3-year-old.
It’s not that I thought my toddler would really understand. But I figured that the earlier we planted the idea, the easier time he would have adjusting to a little brother or sister arriving this summer.
The first attempt was pretty anticlimactic. When I said I had a baby in my belly, he blinked, turned around and started playing with his dinosaurs.
A few days later, I tried again.
“Do you want a brother or a sister?” I asked.
“… I want … a big brother.”
“Well, you’re going to be the big brother,” I said.
“No, I’m gonna have a big brother,” he replied.
“Sorry, kiddo. Short of building a time machine, that’s not happening.”
I occasionally tried again. The answers would range from “a brother and a sister” to “I don’t want a brother or sister.” Once he said the baby was going to hatch from an egg (he’s in a bit of a dinosaur obsession).
I decided to regroup.
Over the next few weeks, I went for a more subtle approach. I figured focusing on the novelty wasn’t as important as the fact that the new baby is a part of our lives now. The more I made it a certainty, the less jarring it might be when we bring him or her home.
“Would you like to give the baby a kiss?” I asked him one morning as I was getting him ready for daycare.
“Yeah!” he squealed and leaned in and kissed my belly. He even laid his head on my abdomen and tried to point to where he thought our new nugget was.
I thought it was considerable progress until he informed me that he, also, had a baby in his belly. He lifted up his shirt and asked me to kiss it.
Oh well, maybe when I start to look like I swallowed a beach ball, it might be a little easier for him to comprehend.
— Sarah Leach is editor of The Holland Sentinel. Contact her at or

Monday, January 12, 2015

Keeping hope through infertility not so easy

The road of infertility is often paved in disappointment and doubt.

You have to keep hoping that for all the effort you put into the process, that by some miracle, things will work out the way you want. And each time you realize another month has passed, it’s more and more difficult to rally that hope again.

Now, I’ve been going through this process for two years, after I figured out that things were not going to just happen as easily as they did the first time around. I’ve been to nearly a dozen doctor offices around West Michigan, been on several different types of medication, underwent abdominal surgery and given enough blood to operate a blood bank.

And each month, nothing changed.

My husband and I started quietly discussing the increasing likelihood that we might only have the one child, so we began to focus more on our toddler. He turned 3 last weekend and it’s been an amazing ride as a first-time mom.

He has taught me so much about patience, love and understanding. I know that having him in my life has made me a better person — a stronger, more compassionate person. Watching him discover the world through those big, blue eyes, I see wonders that my jaded, cynical side long ago had crushed.

I find myself marvelling at the joy of snow. We get so caught up in the dregs of winter and the ever omnipresent polar vortex from hell, but when you have a 3-year-old, he just wants to stomp his boots and feel the powder in his hands. He wants to feel the flakes dissolve on his tongue and figure out how to make a snowball.

He makes me want to slow down and appreciate all the beauty and wonder there is in the world, and even though I very much wanted to go through this entire experience again with a new baby, I began to accept — even embrace — that it was not to be.

And it made him that much more precious to me. It made me realize that I should savor every minute and appreciate every experience we will have with him. I remember seeing my tot perched on his dad’s shoulders as we watched Holland’s annual Parade of Lights and I said to myself, “This is enough. This is more than enough and I AM happy.”

It’s funny how life can be serendipitous that way — almost as if God was waiting for me to accept the plan he had all along.

I’m pregnant.

I found out the day after that parade, and it was the most beautiful moment I have ever had in my life, and I can’t wait to welcome this new life in early August. What more is there to say than that all of it — every single moment — was completely worth it.

— Sarah Leach is editor of The Holland Sentinel. Contact her at or