Baby & Toddler

Life with a Toddler and 16 Months of Motherhood

It’s been 9 months since I’ve written an update on life with my baby girl. My toddler. The saying holds so true that the days are long and years are short, and it’s almost impossible to believe that she’s half a year away from her second birthday. I’m going to include what I can here, although it’s mostly going to be about the last few months since I don’t know anyone who remembers the details of what their baby did 8 months ago. I’ve shared bits and pieces here and there (mostly on instagram) so you know what we’ve been up to, but I haven’t really talked about how much things have changed for all of us. About motherhood, life with a toddler, and how far we’ve come.

Fair warning that this is going to be a long one.

A backstory before we get to how great things have been. The first 10-11 months were really hard on us and on our marriage. We both had so little to give to ourselves let alone to each other and I’m not sure how we got by. I know parents go through so much worse, but a year of no sleep and not being able to leave the house felt hard for us. That’s not to say there weren’t lots of sweet, happy moments and looking back at photos, my heart melts, but it wasn’t an easy year. As Margot’s mom, I often felt like a failure. Simple errands were impossible because if Margot got upset, she would scream until she threw up everywhere, and the escalation to that point was as short as a few seconds. My social life sort of crumbled and I completely lost myself because I couldn’t take her to anything and leaving her at night was impossible because bedtime was just awful. I am so grateful for my friends who showed up and made me feel like a person during that time. I needed friends to come to me and to be flexible, and I’ll never forget the ones who were there for me. Crying it out at night was never an option (she’d throw up), and any time she got upset, I felt a sense of urgency to fix it before things escalated. I still have some PTSD and get a little anxious if she’s ever really upset or isn’t sleeping well, but everything – even the :hard” moments – feels manageable now.

If you’re in a harder period or struggling with a newborn/infant, know that it gets so much better. It can take time to find yourself again and to get into a groove with this little person. Long story short, we struggled, it was hard, it got better, now it’s amazing, and it was all worth it.

I don’t say any of this to scare new moms or moms-to-be. I had a pretty easy pregnancy, my labor was a breeze (epidurals are magic and I felt nothing), recovery was great, etc. So much was better than I could have imagined and we had a healthy baby, which was what I held on to in the darker moments. Looking back, I feel so much guilt for not switching doctors a second time or insisting on seeing a specialist, because our new pediatrician said she would have done a lot more for Margot when we went over her history. I would do things differently now and not stop until I had some answers. But I’d do it all again a million times over, and I really do believe Margot was just very, very sensitive and uncomfortable (which kills me as her mom).

It felt really lonely watching everyone else live their lives while I struggled. It was so lonely. Then, right before she turned 1, it all shifted. I could take her out and not worry about a meltdown. I felt like I could finally get out with her. Like we were in this great little groove. We got each other. I went from being unable to take her out (car rides were so bad the first few months) to taking her across the world. Margot turned 17 months last week and is a sweet, happy, kind, funny, little ray of sunshine. She is just the most incredible little person, and I feel so lucky not only that I know her, but that I get to be her mom.

Parenthood isn’t easy which is always something I thought parents said to make it sound like a big deal (I knew nothing). Guys, it’s so hard but it’s the most rewarding hard work I’ve ever done.

I’m going to talk about the most-requested topics and where we are now at (newly) 17 months.

 

1. Sleep

Margot started sleeping through the night at around a year. This is the one thing I cared about going into motherhood. My baby was going to sleep through the night by 3-4 months, period. My “plan” was the exact opposite of what happened for us, but that’s ok. You have to learn to let go with babies/kids, so we just sort of got by (barely). It was a struggle. We worked and worked on sleep but in the end, Margot just had to get there, and had to be in a place where she wouldn’t get so worked up. She still wakes up at night from time-to-time (maybe once or twice a week for a little bit), but 9/10 times goes back to sleep on her own. I’ll only go in if she sounds really upset and is up for a while, but that doesn’t happen too often. We’re going through her last leap so that has a lot to do with why sleep has been more of a struggle recently. Those leaps and regressions are a treat.

But it was at around 11 months that bedtime became the sweet evening routine I longed for all those months. Bath, books, bottle, a little snuggle, and we put her peacefully in her crib with her “fluffies” (or “fluhs” as Margot calls them). It is not a perfect routine by any means and there are nights when she still fusses (that’s life/toddlerhood) but it’s very manageable.

Margot dropped her second nap early, right around her 1st birthday, and I think that seemed to help, too. I tried to get her to keep it because everyone said drop it as late as possible, but she was done, and it’s what was right for her.

 

2. Eating and OT

Food is still a bit of a challenge but has gotten much much better with OT. We didn’t take Margot off formula until 13 months because she wasn’t eating enough, but she started eating a bit more and we hoped it would help her feel more motivated to eat, so that’s when we transitioned. We did some research and pea milk has more fat and protein than almond milk. The transition was shockingly easy. I gave it to her one day and she loved it. I was so surprised by how easy that was. Zero struggle!

I had an OT (occupational therapist) come twice before we left for Italy and it seemed like Margot was doing better until she wasn’t, but we met with her again, learned a few things, and we’re seeing an improvement. She is definitely a picky eater. Not adventurous and says no to most new things, and at this age, there’s no reasoning with her. The girl knows what she wants and will ask for a “cap cap” (happy baby pouch – calls it that because it has a cap) and then will ask for “red” because that’s the only flavor she will eat. And it’s not as simple as handing her food she doesn’t want because she won’t eat it.

So here’s what she does like:

Happy Baby pouches (the raspberry banana one only, ha)
Once upon a farm smoothie pouches
Fruit (watermelon, apples, pears, banana)
Mac and cheese (annie’s organic)
Banza chickpea pasta with vegan pesto
Cashew yogurt (she loves this spoon!)
Toast (we almost always do sourdough) with PB&J
Applegate organic turkey sausage
For snacks, she’ll eat graham crackers, paleo puffs (they are so good!), annies crackers, and organic animal crackers from whole foods

We’ve tried so many different foods and it’s so interesting what won’t work for her. When we go out to eat, we always try to get her to eat some of what we’re having, but she often won’t even try food that looks different. She won’t touch chicken nuggets or tater tots (really). I can’t really get her to eat most veggies but keep trying. Any advice for me? I’ll try almost anything.

Margot still has 3 bottles a day and I’d like to take her off but haven’t felt ready to deal with that. I’m giving us until January. The goal is to get her to eat more, but she needs the calories. We’re working on transitioning to sippy cups and I finally found one she will use, but it’s just hard and I’m not ready for a struggle right now. Margot is gaining weight so slowly and I just need to get calories in her. If your little one is struggling to eat, I highly recommend OT. The tips we were given are so specific to Margot and her eating habits, so I’m not sure how much help they would be.

We have started slowly introducing dairy (recommended by our doctor) and that’s going well.

 

3. Margot’s Schedule

7:00/7:30AM: wake up and have breakfast. Usually toast or a waffle, eggs, cashew milk yogurt, and sometimes organic turkey sausage
8:00-12: varies depending on the day. Weekdays, she is with our nanny. We have some play time in the morning before she arrives. When we’re together we usually play until 9 or 10 and try to go do something until noon.12/12:30: lunch
12:45/1:00: bottle and nap
Margot sleeps anywhere from 90 min to 3 hours (avg. of 2 hours) but we wake her by 3:30 at the latest
3:30-6PM: play, read books, go do something if there’s time
6:00/6:30: dinner
6:30/45: bath, get ready for bed, books, bottle
7:30: bed

We just pushed bedtime from 7 to 7:30 and it has been much better. She was struggling to go to sleep – probably because she was going to bed too early. Thanks to all the moms who suggested we push it back!

 

4. Walking and physical therapy

Two months ago, Margot took her first steps moments after my sister arrived in Chicago. When she hadn’t shown any progress or interest in walking a month later, I made an appointment with our pediatrician to discuss the possibility of PT. I know it’s perfectly normal for babies to walk at 18 months and she was only 16 months at the time, but seeing zero progress after a month didn’t feel right, and it turns out, it wasn’t.  I am so lucky to have great health insurance and am all for early intervention, so we set up her evaluation, and weekly physical therapy was recommended.

I’ve received quite a few Qs about what the PT recommended, but physical therapy is so personal to the patient, so if you’re worried about your little one, I recommend asking for an evaluation. We were asked to get her to stand more, and to bend, pick things up, and stand back up. The PT told us this is very common which put my mind at ease, and I’m glad we’re doing what we can to help her build up strength.

We’ve now had two sessions and it’s been really helpful to learn a few tips and tricks to help strengthen Margot’s ankles and core. I know all kids get where they need to be eventually, but I just wanted to make sure that she was ok, and do what I can to help her along the way. It could still be a few months and that’s fine. Just want to know I’m doing what I can as her mom.

 

5. Margot at 16 months

What a joy this little muffin is. I’ll start with the topics I get the most Qs about: how verbal Margot is and independent play. She started talking pretty early and just happens to be a verbal toddler. I have a few notes on some of the words she said, and at 11 months she was saying “duck” and “art” and by a year, said the following:

mama
haaaaaaa (hi)
ha (hot)
du (duck)
art
up
uh oh
hot
shoes

Aside from talking to her, reading books every day, and giving her educational toys that I thought would help with development (I just listed her favorites here), there’s really not anything we’ve done to get her where she is. She wakes up in the morning or post-nap and the first thing she does is point to a few things in the room and name them. We didn’t drill her or “practice” her letters, but we did name them while playing. From what I’m hearing, she’s a few years early on that, but it all evens out. My advice is to read, talk, and play with your toddler. Play with the toys he/she is interested in and have fun.

We talk a lot about using being kind and soft, so Margot will gently rub her hand on Buddy’s face or my face and say “ohhh” and it is the sweetest. She loves snuggles and will come up to me, put her head on my shoulder and say “ohhhhh” then, too.

If you ask what PJs she wants to wear, she always replies with “hearts” and if you ask what book she wants to read she almost always replies with “kiiiiii” (Be Kind, my favorite).

Moana (Specifically the Rock’s character, Maui) and Olaf are very popular in our house. We almost always get a request to listen to “Ma” (maui) or “O” (olaf) while eating. She’s starting to get into Anna and Elsa “Els” too. I aim for no TV during the week, and will let her watch a little on weekends, but she will sit down and watch Frozen and Moana start to finish which helps if it’s freezing or one of us is sick and we’re stuck inside. I try to make it more interactive so we’ll talk about what we see. It’s so fun to snuggle and watch a movie, and I initially swore that she’d have zero TV before 18 months, and then I became a mom. Never say never.

Temper tantrums are something we haven’t dealt with (not even once, can’t believe it!), but I know they’re going to hit us at some point. She’s gotten a little fussy in her high chair a handful of times, but it’s usually because she’s tired. I try to redirect, but if I take something away or tell her no, she doesn’t act out. I know we’re not in the clear on this one, but that’s where we are right now. My advice, or what I think/hope I’d do, is tell her I understand she’s upset and offer another option. Easier said than done, I’m sure.

She loves animals, so the zoo is always a hit. During summer, we’d do that, the park, her water table, and just get outside as much as possible.  I’m struggling with the cold weather and truthfully getting a little bored, but every Saturday, we were at Big City Readers the last few months, and it was the perfect morning activity. Museums can be tough since she’s not walking yet, but I’m determined to get out more.

 

6. Motherhood after 16 months

It took a while to find my place in motherhood and to feel like I was any good at it. As someone who had a lot of experience with babies (I started babysitting at 13 and nannied through my early 20s), I was sure I’d be able to take my daughter out to do things and that’s just not what our first year looked like. It was really lonely and isolating, and for the longest time, I felt like I failed as a mom. Loving Margot was so, so easy. Even after she’d cry and cry before bed, she’d finally settle down and fall asleep on me and nothing else mattered. Those moments are the best.

I got a lot of questions about mom guilt, and that comes and goes. I know that working is something I want/need to do, and at first it was hard, but (and it’s hard to admit this) I don’t want to stay home all day. It’s hard not to feel terrible saying that I don’t want to be with my daughter all day. It’s so complicated because I miss her and love her more than anything, but I also want to work. I need to work. I’m also really lucky that I work from home a lot, so I’m able to see her and say hi a bit throughout the day.

Things started to really shift for us before her first birthday. I don’t know if it was colic or reflux (find a doctor who will really listen to you and not brush things off!) but Margot struggled. We all struggled. Then she started sleeping, was fine in the car, and we started to feel like people again. We got into a great little groove together and felt a sense of normalcy.

She’s so much happier now, and while parenthood isn’t “easy” (nothing worthwhile is easy, right?), it is the most amazing, wonderful thing in the world. I love being Margot’s mom more than anything.  She goes to bed and I watch old videos and look at photos of her. I can’t get enough.

Our Italy trip felt like a huge turning point since it went as well as it did. Still some bumps, naturally, but we successfully transported her across the world, so surely, I could handle anything back home. Margot got a lot happier and a lot easier.

Parenthood isn’t great because she’s “easier” so I hope that’s not how this is coming across. And as hard as the first year was, I’d do it agin for her in a second. Our lives stopped and as sweet as she was, it was just so, so hard. But loving her was always easy. Things have changed for the better and part of it is just this age being so much fun. There are still hard moments, naturally, but nothing is better than walking in the door and hearing an excited “mama!” followed by a big snuggle. There are ups and downs, but every day with her feels like a gift. She’s such a joy, and I’m so lucky that I am hers and she is mine.