Thursday, July 26, 2012

Australia Walkabout Wildlife Park

Today, we (Vincent, Desmond, Mom/Grandma, and I) went to the Australia Walkabout Wildlife Park. Located 30 minutes north of our house, it is a wildlife sanctuary/zoo of sorts. We had a great time - there were very few people there, and we were able to wander around and interact with a lot of the animals. Some of the animals roamed freely around the Wildlife Park, while others were in more "zoo-like" enclosures. Here is a list of animals we saw:

  • Kangaroos (Grey and Red and many other species)
  • Wallabies
  • Emus
  • Bilby
  • Koalas
  • Cockatoos
  • Rainbow Lorikeets
  • various small lizards
  • Pythons
  • Flying Foxs
  • Wombat
  • Tasmanian Devil
  • Quolls
  • Dingos
  • and Goats, Bunnies, and Chickens
Both boys - and Grandma - had a great time. We were able to pet the kangaroos and wallabies. We learned how to throw a boomerang. And we ate our morning tea and lunch in the presence of kangaroos, wallabies, emus, and a very friendly cockatoo.

Here are some photos of our adventure... (click on a photo for a larger view)

Rainbow Lorikeet

There were at least 3 emus that were roaming around.

Those birds are big!

The view of the bushland from the Wildlife Park.

The kangaroos and wallabies at their morning feeding.

Kangaroos are sooooo soft!

The local cockatoo.

Desmond shows us where cockatoo is - high in the tree!

The Tasmanian Devil

One of the pythons.

Vincent and the wombat eye each other. The wombat was much larger than we expected!

This is Matilda the kangaroo.

She was very friendly!

And cute!

Desmond bonds with the kangaroo.

The koalas were active and very cute. 
Vincent shows us how he can jump like a kangaroo!

Grandma and Vincent throw a boomerang.

I got in on the action too!

Zoe the kangaroo wanted to share Vincent's lunch!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

A Good Behavior Pin

Like most three-year-olds, Vincent is discovering the extremes in his emotions. He is also learning that his behavior - both good and bad - has consequences. And, he is slowly realizing that he can control his behavior.

In the past, when he would misbehave - what we call having "bad behavior" (we have always been careful to label the behavior - not Vincent - as "bad") - the consequence would be a time-out in his bedroom. We chose this method of discipline because it gave both him and us a chance to calm down. Usually, we would have to carry him - kicking and screaming and crying - into his bedroom, set him down, close the door and then hold the door shut so that he couldn't open it. Then, after a minute or so, we would go into his room, have him sit down and look at us and explain to him what he did wrong. If his transgression required an apology, we would lead him back out into the living room to deliver apologetic remarks as needed. Although this bad behavior didn't happen very often, it did occur in waves. Some days would be full of time-outs, and then a week would go by without any issues.

After Desmond was born, it became increasingly difficult to follow through with this manner of discipline. Often, especially if I was home alone with the boys, I couldn't leave Desmond alone to carry Vincent into his room and hold his door shut. The whole process became more and more difficult and less and less effective.

In the days and early weeks following our move to Australia, Vincent's behavior was - for the most part - quite good. I think he was curious about being in a new place and excited to be with his dad again. He was also unsure of exactly where the boundaries were in this new life, in a new house, in a new city, in a new country. But as we began to settle into a daily routine, Vincent began to act out. And our recourse? Time-outs that were usually marked by extremely loud screaming on Vincent's part, lots of tears (both his and mine), and endless frustration.

It is worth noting here that Vincent's demeanor is, for the most part, quite even keeled. He is a polite, curious boy who loves his little brother (he often refers to Desmond as his "best friend" or "best" for short - as in: "Desmond, you're my best"). He has a great imagination, happily plays by himself, and can entertain Desmond. But, he knows how to push my buttons, often tests the boundaries, and can be as stubborn and irrational as any three-year-old. And the smallest thing can set him off. Sometimes, it is because I have pushed him too hard to do something or have done something that antagonizes him. But frequently, he can loose his patience or temper at the silliest, most insignificant thing.

All of these time-outs were starting to wear on Paul and me - and I'm sure that Vincent was tired of them as well. I felt that they were no longer an effective deterrent for bad behavior. We tried taking away his toys and not allowing him to watch videos. But that was not really effective either. We needed something that was simple to enforce and something that we could follow through with consistency. And we needed Vincent to be on-board with it.

My mom suggested some sort of system that would reward good behavior while also serving as a deterrent for bad behavior. Our solution? The good/bad behavior pin system.

I took an old bib and drew a smiley face (=good behavior) on one side and a sad face (=bad behavior) on the other side. Then we got 20 safety pins and pinned them to the edge of the bib. Whenever Vincent had bad behavior, he we would pin a pin to the sad face side. When he had good behavior, we would place a pin on the happy face side. When all 20 pins were on the bib, the pins could move sides depending on Vincent's behavior. So, for example, if he had 15 good behavior pins and 5 bad behavior pins and then had bad behavior, he could "loose" a good behavior pin to the bad side of the bib. When he got all 20 pins on the good behavior side, he would get a prize: a gigantic T-Rex toy from Dinosaur Train (Boris Tyrannosaurus) - something he helped pick out from the toy section at Target. We set the reward out on the dresser in our bedroom - somewhere were Vincent could see it and be reminded that his good behavior would be rewarded.

This method of behavior enforcement had several benefits - it was easy to be consistent, we didn't have to have emotional time-outs (all we had to say was, "That's a bad behavior pin" and Vincent would know what that meant), and it was a visual aid for Vincent to track his behavior.

Since implementing this way of tracking Vincent's behavior, we have seen an overall general improvement in his actions. His angry outbursts are much shorter and less dramatic (i.e., less loud and piercing screams). He seems to be able to regain control of his behavior and now responds to comments like, "Please get your behavior under control." He has also started removing himself from a situation when we tell him he is having bad behavior. For example, he will leave the room, go into his room, close his door, calm himself down, and then come back to us and apologize for his behavior. The first time it happened (he came to me and said, "Mama, I'm sorry I yelled at you" and then gave me a hug and a kiss) I almost fell off my chair - but quickly recovered, hugged him, and told him that I appreciated the apology.

It has taken 18 days, but Vincent finally got all 20 good behavior pins this morning. He was overjoyed to receive his new dinosaur and spent nearly the entire day playing with it. I think he understood that this was a direct result of having repeated good behavior - and having more good behavior than bad. Our plan going forward is to continue this method of tracking his behavior - already today he has one good behavior pin and one bad behavior pin. We will give him another, smaller toy when he again reaches 20 good behavior pins. And I anticipate that it will take less than 18 days this time. After that, we will continue this method, but the final rewards will get smaller.

I know that all kids go through phases where they have good behavior and bad behavior. But this method we now have in place to track his behavior provides both a strong visual for Vincent and gives us a consistent, reliable, calm way of marking his bad behavior and rewarding his good behavior. And - at least for us and at least for now - it is working.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


I hope you will indulge this quick trip down self-pity lane...

I need sleep. Ok, to be fair, both Paul and I need sleep. But since this is my blog, this is about me. I'm not talking about an afternoon nap or a sleep-in in the morning. I need a good, solid night of 8-10 hours of uninterrupted sleep.

Desmond (9.5 months) is not sleeping well at night or, for that matter, napping very well during the day. And this has been going on for months (since before we left the US). And by not sleeping well, I mean that he is waking up - or at least crying out in his sleep - on average, 4-5 times a night. Some nights it is every 45-60 minutes. Last night, he needed soothing a couple of times before completely waking himself up at 2am - and was up for close to 2 hours. The worst is around 10pm when we have just drifted off to sleep. It is also really hard when I get him back to sleep, crawl back into bed, get warm and comfy - only to have him wake up again 10 minutes later.

Desmond started out a relatively good sleeper - not sleeping completely through the night, but only waking up 2 times a night to nurse. But then, as with Vincent, he developed into a light sleeper. It seems that he wakes up or needs soothing at the end of each 45-minute sleep cycle.

It always seems to be something - ear infection, teeth, upset and burpy tummy, mastery of new gross motor skills, a rapidly growing brain. Or an international move.

Yes, I know we could "sleep train" him. We could give him the opportunity to learn to soothe himself by letting him cry a bit. But we are worried he might wake up Vincent. And I genuinely believe that he still needs to nurse at night. And, in many ways, it is just easier to get up and nurse him or rock him than it is to lie in bed and listen to him cry.

I am fortunate that I have a partner to help with this. But, more often than not, it is me that Desmond wants. It is nice to know that I am needed...but this is getting to be a bit extreme.

I know that there are lots of other parents who have gone through this or are going through it now. We went through it (for months and months and months and months) with Vincent. I know it is a phase. I know it will end. I know Desmond will learn to sleep through the night and that by the time he is a teenager we will be pulling him out of bed at noon. But right now that doesn't matter.

I now understand why sleep-deprivation is such an effective form or torture. The only benefit of sleep deprivation (from my vantage point) is that it made the jet lag much less severe.

Fortunately, this pattern of interrupted sleep doesn't seem to make Desmond cranky during the day. Most days, he is happy, curious, laid back. And very cute and charming.

I write all of this not because I am looking for sympathy or empathy. But rather just as a way to vent. And as a possible explanation if I don't return e-mails quickly or seem a bit absent-minded when you talk to me or am completely irrational or am maybe a bit less patient with you than I should be - or if I completely bite your head off.

Just be a bit patient with me. I'm tired.