Chopsticks and Toddlers

So last night we went out to dinner with some friends. Bryce was extra fidgety.  He wouldn’t sit in the highchair, wouldn’t sit in the booster, nor would he sit on our laps.  Thankfully we had a booth and he happily sat between us for the meal.  But not while sitting still.  Up and down, to and fro he went.  I tried everything to distract him.  Ipad? No.  Toys?  No.  Knife?  Yes. Wait, knife?!  Grab that from him! Ugh…

Finally I spied chopsticks sitting on the table and gave them to him. That worked.  For one minute. Until he decided to throw them at the older couple behind us.  Mortified, I apologized.  The guy, apparently a grandfather or at least a kid lover, came over to our table and gave Bryce his chopsticks back.  He bent over to his level, and smiled big for Bryce while saying hi little man.  Bryce, being the ham he is, loved the attention and started clapping and laughing, bringing even more attention our way. Soon three tables around us were clapping along with Bryce!  The rest of the meal Bryce happily clutched the chopsticks and never threw them again.

As a parent I will admit I do not keep calm during the storm. I am the parent that worries what others think, feel like I never can keep my kid behaved, and am anxious as soon as we leave the house.

Last night reminded me that most people at one point were in our shoes. That maybe, instead of seeing an out of control rambunctious toddler, they see a sweet almost 2 year old enjoying his time out with his parents and finding everything about the experience thrilling, including chopsticks being flung and then returned by a sweet couple.

This stage of life….it’s hard.  But it also has the most rewards.  Lesson learned.  At least until the next outing….


When Toddler Angst Strikes

Am I the only parent with a toddler who goes crazy when a parent is out of town on business? Brian has been gone since Monday and Bryce is progressively getting worse each day. He is fussier, clingier and not sleeping well at night. Last night he started screaming in his crib and would only fall back asleep when I put him in bed with me.  The weird part is when Brian facetime’s us Bryce refuses to talk to him! He sees it is daddy and walks away.  Like he is mad that daddy is not here so is giving him a hard time.

Brian comes home late tonight so hope Bryce will be back to his normal self soon. This morning he woke up at 5:00 AM and just wouldn’t settle back down.  So I will be drinking copious amounts of coffee today and just hope to get through.  I am grateful that it is at least Friday!

Here are photos of us from earlier in the week. His toothy grin is just precious.

The Language of Parents

Here are examples of things I say to other parents and then what I actually mean. The best part is that most people understand that I am talking about the long version without me actually saying it.  Anyone relate out there?

What I say: I’m trying to potty train my kid but we are not there yet.

What I mean: My son pooped in the shower the other week and recently peed on my freshly cleaned carpet.  He thinks an actual toilet should be where his toys are stored and has completely disassembled his “practice” potty. I am fine with using diapers.  What size do they go up to again?

What I say:  I am sorry I can’t go there today, my kid might fall asleep in the car on the way back.

What I mean: If my kid falls asleep for even 5 blocks on the way back, we will get home and I will be exhausted from whatever outing we just had but he will want to run around the neighborhood, and I will turn into crazy mommy.

What I say:  I’m sorry I can’t go out tonight. It’s been a long day with the kid. He got up at 5AM

What I mean: At 5AM I was woken up in a way that is inhuman. My son was screaming for us in his crib and wanted up. I then proceeded to attempt to make breakfast while son is running circles around me and the cat is going nuts because I haven’t given her food.  Breakfast ends up taking 30 minutes of rushing around grabbing food and drinks and cleaning up the ones that spilled and I didn’t get to even drink a cup of coffee. When I head out the door for work, I will have felt as if I worked a full 8 hour day and feel relieved that I get to go to my job which, to me, seems like a break since I can use the restroom at some point with no one screaming at me. After I get home, make dinner, do something that looks like a cross between eating and waiting tables, clean the house, bath the kid, brush his teeth, put PJ’s on him, read stories and wrangle him into bed, I then start the laundry and see it is already 9PM.  I’m now so tired my eye balls are stuck looking at the wall so I technically I cannot make it to my car and safely drive.  Have fun without me.

What I say: I have decided to “free range parent” with sleep training

What I mean:  I am too exhausted at night to deal with his screaming so I do whatever  it takes to get him to sleep.  You want to sleep with mommy and daddy tonight? Fine.  Just try to keep your feet out of my face.  You need driven around the block because you decide you just don’t want to fall asleep any other way tonight? I’ll get the keys.  Rock you to sleep while you hoard all 10 of your blankets around you because you suddenly decide one blanket is just not good enough? Fine.  I am learning that as a parent getting them to sleep is more important then how it happens. Because once they are asleep for the night you finally can sleep!

What I Say: We are getting a date night this Saturday.  I’m so excited

What I mean: Besides a “to do” list and talk about the kid, my husband and I haven’t had a real conversation in weeks.  Nor have we been able to sit at the same table and eat a hot meal without getting up 10 times each.  We haven’t seen a movie in over a year and we most likely will stay out too late and have to pay the babysitter overtime. When we come home we will feel like we took a vacation since we actually got to leave the house and relax while doing it.

Toddler Life

I vaguely remember my life pre-child.  Sleeping in, drinking hot cups of coffee, eating hot food while watching a TV channel other than Disney Jr.  Heck I think I even have memories of being able to read more than two pages of a book before passing out in exhaustion! Or talking to my husband about something other than our child, bills or our ever growing to do list around the house.

Parenthood is wonderful. It is also exhausting. We have entered the tantrum stage and I swear he knows to throw one just when they are least welcome.  Middle of aisle five at the grocery store because I wouldn’t let him climb the store shelves? Of course.  Out at the park because we need to leave? A given. Before or after his bath because he hates transitions? Why not.  And trying to put a diaper on him lately is like wrangling a snake.  He hates it and won’t sit still. He won’t use a potty either so wrangling him it is. I have taken to whatever distraction necessary to change his diaper.  Want to play with mommy’s phone? No, OK, how about this Ipad? No? OK, here are a pair of scissors…..ugh of course those would peak your interest….


Because wrapping paper apparently makes the best cape EVER



We have had to remove EVERY bar stool from our kitchen because he has become fixated with climbing them and then onto the kitchen counters. Which that alone is bad but then he proceeds to throw everything off the counters onto the floor, which in turn makes me a hysterical mess….it has not been a pretty sight at times in the Thomas household lately.

He is already fascinated with how things work and wants to fix everything.



But when the going is good it is amazingly beautiful.  He loves to cuddle up on our laps now with his blankets and will just turn around randomly to give us a hug.  I melt every time he does that.  His mental capacity to figure things out is growing leaps and bounds everyday. He is talking more.  Understanding more.  He understands what we say so much now that we have started spelling out words we don’t want him to hear. The problem with that is mom is NOT a great speller, apparently….

He has a slight blanket hoarding problem


He will be 22 months in a few days. Almost two years old.  I am continually grateful that he has come into my life and even though we have a lot of the these crazy days in our house currently, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.  If you are in the thick of toddler life like me, remember you are not alone.  And people tell me there is this thing coming up in a few years  where the kid goes to this place for the whole day and you get the house to yourself. It is free and they are taken care of by a whole team of people. I hear it is called school…..

Omi Saves the Day

Back in December my son got kicked out of daycare for biting. He is 1 years old. Someday I will laugh at this but at the time I thought the world was ending with the amount of stress it gave me.  What to do, on top of the holidays, made me a mess. And people don’t have much sympathy when they hear it is a behavior issue.  The judging I felt I got from others plus the unsolicited advice from them was too much at times.  I am not in a situation where I can just quit my job and stay home.  But I also knew daycare was not a good fit for him.  He needed more attention and less of a schedule.  More time to explore and just be a kid.  Nanny?  More money than we could afford.  So what to do?

We are very lucky that my mother-n-law offered to watch him for us. So currently my mother-n-law lives with us during the week and watches him.  And in just one month he has made so much progress.  He rarely bites anymore and has calmed down.  He actually can concentrate on the task in front of him instead of bouncing around from one thing to another.  He smiles more. He sits on my lap and gives me hugs when I get home instead of the tears I was getting before. It is like he is a different child.  And of course I love the pictures she sends me during the day of him.  Their relationship is special and you can tell he adores her.

Upon reflecting on this arrangement of course I have mom guilt that I am not there. Every mom –working or not – has mom guilt. But I realize these days of him being with his “Omi” are precious. You see, she is his only grandparent. My parents are both deceased as well as Brian’s dad. “Omi” is it.  I was so close to my “Omi” growing up and am SO grateful that he is getting to know at least one of his.

Life has a way of pushing us where we need to go whether we are ready or not. Lesson learned.

Picture Day – A Toddler’s View

Being a kid sucks.

I mean, to an adult, being a kid is awesome: you have zero responsibilities, zero stress; all you have to worry about is whether you want mac and cheese or chicken nuggets for dinner, or how many laps you can run around the couch before you get dizzy and fall over, or how many colored scribbles you can get on the wall before your parents have a hissy fit.

But actually being a kid sucks.

You’re always getting hauled off to places you don’t care about. Trips to the grocery store or to Target. Stops at the bank. A daily sojourn to day care or the babysitter. Then, you’re being forced to do all sorts of things that interest you not a bit. Eating vegetables. Going to bed at a “reasonable” hour. Not coloring on the walls.

But despite these day-to-day inconveniences, I don’t know that, for a kid, there is any indignity worse than picture day.

You wake up, hoping for a day of cartoons and playgrounds, of candy and sunshine, but the parents are up. And they’re a little bit more wound up than usual. Bustling about. Rushing through breakfast. Nipping at each other about time and duties and outfits and responsibilities. Then they’re stuffing you into stiff clothes that — let’s be honest — are a little long in the sleeve or short in the leg: uncomfortable threads that rub and irritate and constrict and ride up.

Next thing you know, you’re crammed into the car seat — but you can’t have any snacks, because you can’t get any gunk on your hands, and you can’t have anything to drink, because you might spill it on yourself. Then they stick you in some photographers outdoor Christmas scene, and sure, there are cool things to touch around you, but your parents are getting mad at you for trying to run around, and you got scolded for unwrapping the shiny presents. There’s nothing really to do except sit around and not have fun. Anathema for a toddler.

There is some weird adult there with a fancy camera, poking and prodding at you and telling you where to stand, how to sit, where to prop your knees, and she keeps telling you to “smile” or say “puppies” and all manner of adults-talking-to-kids-they-don’t-know nonsense.


You can bear it for a few minutes because you’re generally agreeable, and your parents seem really concerned about you doing what this camera wielding adult asks. But you’re only 18 months. There’s only so much you can stand. The ants start creeping in and you have no more patience for holding still. They’re still asking you to smile, but all you can do is bare your teeth like a wild animal and start running away with the sparkly ornament that has fixated you since you arrived to this weird scene. Meanwhile, your parents are jumping around in the background waving their arms like maniacs trying to get you to smile and sit still.

Finally, the parental units give up, and you are crammed back in the car seat and driven home, where you are allowed to put normal clothes on again and have something decent to eat. And what do you have to show for this? A handful of pictures featuring you, which makes not an ounce of sense to you, seeing as the house is already full of pictures of you.  But mom is happy and saying words like “scrapbook worthy” and “photo calendar.” So I guess it wasn’t too bad.


Coming to America

Growing up I lived only 10 minutes from my grandparents (my mom’s parents). “Omi” (German for Grandmother) would tell me her life story over and over again through the years. As a kid I would get annoyed that she would repeat, AGAIN, how she came to America, how she survived the war (World War 2), and how she met my grandpa (“Opa”). Weirdly, Opa never talked about his story. To the day he died I only heard his story from the bits and pieces Omi told me or my parents told me. I think some people heal through telling their story and other people try to forget as much as possible through silence.

My other grandparents also immigrated to America from Germany after the war. In fact, my dad was born in Germany. But they also never talked about their journey to get here. In fact, this summer when I went through my mom’s stuff I found a letter my dad wrote a month before he died. In it, he tells how his grandfather split the family onto 2 trains when they were kicked out of Budapest, Hungary by the Communists – one to West Germany and one to East Germany. My dad’s mom (he wasn’t born yet) was on the one to East Germany. I was floored. I had NO idea I was Hungarian! I always thought they had lived in Germany hundreds of years before immigrating.

My dad with his parents
My dad with his parents

Both families came to the United States through NYC, with my mom’s family settling in the neighborhood of Glendale, Queens and my Dad’s family settling in Clifton, New Jersey. Both were able to come over partly because they had relatives already living here in the country (which are good stories in themselves – one was a sister who was ostracized after she got pregnant out of wedlock and the other met and married a man in 3 days so she wouldn’t have to go back to Germany!).

In the end, it is my grandmothers story that I remember the most and that resonates with me today. Her mom a widow, the war was hard on them. The Russians bombed her town (At the time a key port town called Konisgberg – after being largely destroyed in Word War II and occupied by the Soviet Union thereafter, the former city was renamed Kaliningrad) and killed her mother after she refused to give them the location of her daughter (my grandmother was hiding in the basement dressed up as an old woman since they had heard the Russians were looking for young women). A neighbor had tipped the Russians for food to the location of my grandmother. Somehow she escaped and survived by eating literally at times leaves and eventually volunteering for the Red Cross. She almost died of Typhoid, she lived/hid in ruins and eventually ran for her life across the border (woods) to West Germany. At some point she met up with my grandfather, they got married and managed to come to the United States.

I am writing all this because my heart is BREAKING with the news lately of the refugee crisis in Europe. My grandparents were refugees at one point. They got lucky and were able to come to the USA. How different my story would be if they hadn’t. My grandmother did what she had to so she could survive. My father’s parents as well. Desperate to improve their situation and feeling like there was no other choice, they choose to come to America with nothing and try and start a new life.

I don’t have all the answers to where all these people should go. It is horrible that their home countries are going through so much atrocity that they have to leave in the first place.

Just remember that at one time we all immigrated from somewhere. We are all just humans, who want the same things – safety, food, shelter, love, opportunity. A chance to make life better for our family, our children.

Below is my grandmothers story that she wrote years ago before she died. I wish I could have recorded her all those years she talked to me. Her story is movie worthy. But I just have this and my memories. And I definitely will be telling all this to my son. Because her sacrifice should not be forgotten.

My grandmother and grandfather on their wedding day
My grandmother and grandfather on their wedding day

Tragedy Turned Into Victory

My thoughts go back more then 50 years ago. I was born in Koenigsberg, the Capital of East Prussia, Germany. There I grew up in a sheltered home. How safe and secure I felt when I walked as a little girl on my father’s hand.  When I was nine years old, however, he suffered an accident and died shortly after. I was heartbroken. My dad’s death was the first tragedy which I experienced in my young life.

My older sister and I had a Christian upbringing through a caring and loving mother and grandmother, who came to live with us. Life was simple, but happy.

When World War II broke out, I was in my mid teens, wondering what the future would have in store for me and beautiful hometown. When later on, 90 percent of it was left in ruins after two concentrated air raids my heart was broken. The worst was still to come.

On April 9, 1945, the Russians finally conquered the City and I had no chance to flee. It was like hell on earth. Well aware of what happened to females during this time, I camouflaged myself by covering my face and hair with ashes so I would look like an old, sick woman. My mother and I hid in the basement of a burned-out house for many weeks. As the Russian soldiers searched, especially for young girls, my neighbor betrayed me for a piece of bread. The soldiers came and questioned my mother about me. She refused to give me away. They beat her, brutally hit her over the head with a rifle, and left her dying. While watching this happen I became paralyzed with fear and in a state of shock. After the soldiers left, she whispered her dying words into my ear: “I’m going to Glory.” After my mom died, I didn’t want to live anymore. The Lord intervened by sending me a dear elderly devoted Christian woman who had also lost everything. She found me in this state of despair and told me, “if you don’t want to live, your mother’s death would be in vain. She died out of love for you. Let me take care of you from now on.” She comforted me in a wonderful way. I felt like the Lord had sent me an angel at that most crucial time.

Later, trained by the Red Cross, I became active in combatting epidemics such as typhoid, typhus, and cholera. It was a very difficult task. Water lines were broken down and there was no electricity. Germans lived in basements and ruins. Russians occupied those houses that were still intact. Our daily bread rations consisted of 300 grams each for hard work, IF AVAILABLE, and we had to stand for hours in line for it. Most of the time it tasted like machine oil and it was almost impossible to eat. During the winter months, people died from starvation, and many froze to death. I often stood in front of bomb craters turned into mass graves with 500 to 600 nameless corpses, thrown into and buried. Finally, I contracted Typhoid fever myself. With my weight going down to 78 pounds, I looked like a skeleton. During that time in a run down windowless hospital, there were two and three people sharing a bed, and many had to lie on the floor. We could always tell when death was near for the lice would leave the person and flies began to cover the dying body. God was gracious to me, for it was a miracle that the lice never settled on me and my friends were happy that I could keep my long blond hair. During the long evenings, we tried to keep our spirits high by singing folk songs which attracted nursing personnel, and we saw many tears shed by the nuns turned nurses.

The best way to overcome hardship is to help others! We had no stores, no money, and no medication. Whatever nature had to offer was very helpful in every way. For example, oak bark cooked in water, gave cholera patients relief and healing. Once I was fortunate to find a small bottle of petroleum and also a bandage for burns. I applied the petroleum to the head of a young girl who was suffering with nits under the skin of her head. First, I had to give her a crew cut, then I had to cut the area infested with nits. She cringed in pain. With her hair off, she looked like a boy and she played that role for some time, until there was less danger for girls. The Lord had helped me to save her life.

For two years nobody was permitted to leave this military zone behind the iron curtain. During this time, I acquired knowledge of the Russian language. This helped me to obtain a permit to leave for East Germany. Some salvaged jewelry was also helpful. The day finally came when approximately 400 of us were squeezed like sardines into cattle cars. We didn’t know our destination! During those seven days in transit, we had nothing to eat. On stops in open fields, we were permitted to pick weeds and grass to eat and get some water from the locomotive to quench our thirst. While changing trains, we were often attacked by partisans who robbed us of our last possessions. My sweet adopted mother was hiding me under a blanket, laying or sitting on top of me during that time. To my dismay, she had a very serious heart condition and one day on the train she collapsed. She had no pulse or heartbeat. I began shaking her almost frantically till she opened her eyes and looked at me. She looked like she came from another world. Again I thanked my Heavenly Father for His mighty help!

When we finally crossed the border into East Germany, we praised the Lord and started unitedly singing, with tears running down our cheeks: “Now thank we all our God…”

We landed in a refugee camp near Berlin and were in quarantine for three weeks in a former concentration camp. Now we feasted daily on a plain water soup made from turnip leaves and got a piece of bread every fifth day. The straw that was given to us to lie on we used to braid and made sandals. We made use of everything!

Now began the task to find my fiancée whom I had not seen for over three years, but hoped to be reunited with as soon as possible. In the seven years we had known each other, we had met only 81 days, which he had recorded in his diary. My Mother had a vision before she died! It was that he is still alive and will replace her and my dad some day for me. An added assurance, that he was still alive was a postcard from him to my mother, blown by the wind to the feet of the same girl that I had successfully freed from lice and nits some time before. The card was partly burned, as the Russians used to burn all incoming mail. With Germany now divided, I could not get a permit to go to the western part where Albert lived and had to risk my life again to cross the borderline by night through dark and dangerous woods. I could not help remembering a dream that I had seven years earlier when I had met him for the first time. In that dream, I saw Albert dragging me through dark swampy woods. To my horror, this nightmare became a reality! We were running for our lives to cross the border, risking being shot by the guards at any time! Again, the Lord helped! We made it through! Praise the Lord!

Finally we had our wedding in October 1947. In 1950, we emigrated to “the promised land”, our beloved America and have reason enough to thank our dear Lord and Savior for having NEVER left us nor forsaken us. He has also given us two wonderful children, four precious grandchildren, loving friends, a caring church family and a beautiful home. Most of all He has given us the assurance of our heavenly eternal home some day in glory!

Written by Christel Schuster

My grandparents during their retirement years
My grandparents during their retirement years
my great grandfather on the left and my great grandmother on the right.
Her father on the left and her mother on the right.

Adventures in Sleep Training

I am in the midst of trying to sleep train my 1 year old. Trying being the key word here.

In my mind, it would go like this:

Little boy sleeping with teddy bear

The reality is this:

Crying baby do not want to sleep

Most nights I invariably give in and hold him, rocking him to sleep or singing 10 renditions of “Hush Little Baby” while rubbing his back in the crib. This sleep training is more like sleep work. For me.

And then, when I ask people what I should do to get Bryce to sleep I get everything from “let him cry it out till he exhausts himself to sleep” to “my sister used to just drive the twins to sleep each night” to “my kid is 6 and still sleeps with us” It seems sleep and kids is a hot topic. With no clear answer in sight.

Being a working mom I already have mommy guilt for being apart from him most hours of the day. So I don’t want his last memory every night to be of mommy leaving him hysterical in the crib. Plus I have tried having him cry it out. He just makes himself vomit and then I am cleaning that up in addition to having a non sleeping child. The joy.

At the end of the day he eventually falls asleep (and yes, we HAVE been known to drive around the neighborhood at night to get the kid to sleep. No judgements please. I am finding in parenthood that exhaustion makes every parent do something they thought they would never do). And someday he will be a teenager and I will go from not being able to get him to sleep to trying to get him UP.

So maybe I need to change the idea from sleep training to sleep bonding. After all, pretty soon he will be too big to do this. And boy is he cute when he does.


Our Own Little Family Unit

My son’s new thing is to say mom or more like “mom mom MOM” I am sure there will come a day where this word may be irritating to my ears but right now it is bliss. I LOVE being a mom. It is the hardest thing I have ever done (whoever said it is the hardest job you will ever have was not lying) but he fills my heart with joy. Every day he is discovering the world around him and it is fantastic to watch. And even though I say “no!” to him more than any other word at the moment he is learning. Yesterday he tried to pull the cats tail AGAIN and when I gave him “the look” he actually backed off. Wow. He is learning. He is starting to understand all those no’s. He is our little miracle. We have been married for 11 years people. It took us over 9 years to have him. I had about given up on my body. But I guess it just wasn’t the right time till now. My point is right now he is my light. What is helping me get through this grief, and helping me shape how I want my future to look. Him and Brian, we are a family. Our own little unit. And I love it.