Monthly Archives: August 2012

Pulled Under

There is a photograph of me that I absolutely love. It is not a flattering one, but it is from a time when I was under pressure to always look appealing, a task I seldom lived up to.

I’m crouching down on a rock messing with an old digital camera, looking up at my friend M. And making a funny face. For me, it is a picture of me as I am held above the waves by a dear friend who refused to let me be pulled under even as I told her time and time again to let me go.

I am not smiling, but my eyes are alive. Every other photo from that time has a forced grin or a shaky neutral smile that was careful to not go too wide or too big or too happy. (Too me.)

There is a reason that abusers try to cut you off from your family and friends. Those people are the ones that hold your head above the waves and keep you from being pulled under. They lull you back into the pattern of being yourself and jangle with your subconscious in ways that make you question why sometimes you feel so free and others you feel muffled, strangled, suffocated, held down, twisted into something that you have never been. A work of Bonsai, held in place with fear.

Years out now, I marvel at the people who held me in their hearts when I pushed them away and accused them of the things my abuser held true. I’ve said my apologies and have been met with tears and open arms and more love than I could have ever imagined.

I marvel at how I managed to find those moments with my friends where I could come out of hiding, be at ease. I struggle to comprehend how much time I wasted feeling so worthless that I could only be myself alone in front of the mirror in a bathroom behind locked doors. I used to make those me-faces struggling to see them as objectionable so that I could train them away in exchange for the love of someone who could never truly love me.

I love each and every one of you who held my space in the world when I was not allowed to be. Each of you who helped me back to my feet. Who listened to me as I processed what had happened.

You kept me from being pulled under.

And now I have joy.

I Value Your Trust

Dear I, A and K,

When you were born you were placed in my arms and you trusted me. You had no reason not to. Your needs had been met absolutely and without fail for the nine months that were in my womb. When you are first born you have no reason to distrust anyone.

I value your trust. I value it tremendously. I value your trust more than I value being seen as perfect. More than I value being seen as a person of power. More than I value my own ideas of who I am. I value your trust more than I value my sleep. I value your trust more than I value convenience. I value your trust more than I value many things.

Trust is easily broken. I do not wish to squander it on stupid things.

When you cry because you are in pain and I don’t know how to fix it, I sympathize rather than dismissing it.

When you say that you have a need, I try to meet it. Or I acknowledge how strong that want of yours is, and how it must feel just like a need, and we talk about how we grow to understand our wants and how they are different from our needs. I do not get angry at you for your expressions of need or your expressions of those deeply felt wants.

When I say that I will check back on you, I check back on you even though I know you are asleep. I kiss your cheek, pull your sheets up, find your stuffed doggie and put him under your arm and tuck him in too. When you stir awake in the middle of the night, you’ll know that someone has been there to tuck you in and give you a kiss.

When I say that we will do something and plans change, I don’t hope that you’ve forgotten. I apologize, I deal with your frustration, I explain why the plans changed. I reschedule the promise or I find something similar. Disappointment is a part of life, but so are promises, trust, living up to what you said would happen. Sometimes it takes a full year to pass for that promise to be kept, but when I keep it I remind you of the promise made. I tell you that people are not perfect, I am not perfect, and that if a promise has been broken please remind me of it so that I can keep it, because it is important to me. Reminders are not nagging, reminders are a second chance to keep that trust.

When a pet passes away, when a toy breaks in your absence, when a family friend dies.. I don’t take the easy way out. I tell the truth. I share my grief. I share my perspective. I explain. I encourage and answer questions. I don’t make up stories about farms, I don’t ignore questions, I don’t build a fanciful world where nothing bad ever happens. It is all a part of life. Everything has reasons. I can provide you the building blocks of understanding as a child so that you can cope later in life.

When I make a mistake and you are angry at me, I do not try to sugar-coat it or twist your perceptions about my mistake. When I accidentally splash you in the face in the pool and you cry, I apologize. If I step on your foot I say that I’m sorry without acting as though you had no right to be underfoot. When I forget something that was important to you, I do not downplay it or pretend that I hadn’t forgotten.

I explain Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy as beautiful games of imagination and mystery, and we play them wholeheartedly and with fun. They are not a thing that I have created for you, they are something that we create together in a game of fantasy. A make-believe that you are in on from the start and that we craft together as a part of our own tradition. A magic that is not me-made, but that we discover together through storytelling and play.

When you ask me a question, I answer it. But I also look up the answer with you and talk about how information changes and how different people have different ideas about things and how and why things happen. I try to demonstrate the reasons behind the answer that I feel is correct. I talk about the funny stories that people come up with to try to explain the things that they don’t understand. I am not afraid to say “I don’t know the answer to that.”

When you say that you feel sick and do not want to go to school, I do not knee-jerk and accuse you of faking it or lying. I ask you if you feel sick because you’re tired, if you feel sick because you’re nervous. If you feel sick because you really want to stay home. We talk about it, we figure it out, I help you to be more truthful and then I accept the truth and we discuss the options.

Trust does not come from being perfect, it comes from acknowledging mistakes. Trust does not come from shielding someone from truths that may eventually come to be known, it comes from dealing with life as it happens. Trust does not come from lying to you to shield each of us from your emotional response to reality. It comes from facing things head on and with compassion and understanding and with providing you the perspective necessary to deal with things.

I do not get rid of that toy that I absolutely hate and then claim that it is “lost” while you look for it. I do not throw away the clothes that got ripped. I explain, and if it is something of value to you, you keep it. If we lack the space then we talk about options and space and I demonstrate my reasons and we come to terms. Your things are yours and I will not clear the room they occupy without your consent.

Trust is easily squandered. I do not wish to spend your trust in me lightly, nor do I want you to easily spend my trust in you.

I also wish for you to grow knowing that those who are trustworthy are not those who make themselves out to be perfect. It is those who acknowledge their shortcomings, those who apologize, and those who confront the difficult stuff head on. I do not wish to teach you that being lied to is a normal part of life. I do not want you to simply accept the things that you are told as truth without seeking truth on your own. I do not want partial truths to be “good enough”.

I love you enough to put the work in.

<3 Mama

The Baby Not The Person

Dear Daughter,

Someone once said to me that their son was “Not Arron*, but the baby that will become Arron”. At the time it sounded deep. After all we spend so little time in our babyhood and childhood compared to the rest of our lives, and as adults we look at that part of our life as an encapsulated past.

It now sounds incredibly superficial and shallow.

You are not yet five months old. You do not yet eat food other than my milk. You do not sit up, you do not crawl. You blow bubbles and open your mouth in a baby-bird like grin of squeaky delight that betrays your toothless gummy baby nature. You coo. You cry. You grab. You poop. You laugh when your own fart startles you, and you become annoyed with your hiccups if you’re trying to nurse. You bite down when you’re nursing and want me to look at you.

This is not who you will be at 5. This is not who you will be at 18. This is not who you will be at 30, at 60, at 95. This is not how you entered the world as a newborn, nor is it how you were in the womb.

You will not remember being this small.

In theory now is the time to have your ears pierced, to train you to sleep with tears, to teach you independence by ignoring you in the hopes of bypassing that inevitable time when you’re about 9 months old and discover the idea of separation anxiety. (Which is completely unavoidable, age appropriate, and part of your brain’s development. Not something that I can cause now by holding you or not holding you or changing your name to “The Independent Baby of Independence” or other such things.)

You see. You’re the “baby” not the “person”. You won’t remember it, so what’s the harm? It’s part of shaping you to be who you are in the future because who you are now doesn’t matter.. Somehow.

You’re sitting next to me as I write this. Kicking your feet against my leg and flailing your arms around in intense concentration as you try to figure out how to kick harder and/or get your feet into your mouth. I’m watching you through the corner of my eye as I type and when you look up at me I look over at you and I smile and compliment you on the kicking. You flash me a gummy grin and go back to your task.

The idea that you are not yet a person.. Not yet someone who has your own thoughts, feelings, motivations, desires, memories.. The idea that today will be completely forgotten and have little impact on tomorrow (other than the stuff I successfully train into a habit.).. No. Just no.

You are a person. A fourteen pound and some-ounce person. Fully formed. Fully functional. One hundred percent of all that you are supposed to be right now.

When tomorrow comes you might not remember that I spent today making faces at you and carrying you around and showing you the bright red tomatoes as I picked them with you on my hip. You might not remember that I had the taxi driver pull off to the side of the road so that I could change your diaper when you fussed instead of making you sit wet for fifteen minutes until we got home.

I’m not parenting you for your memories. I’m not parenting you for my own memories. I’m parenting you for the feeling of calm across the day. The feeling of having your needs met. The feeling of trusting and being taken care of, and being listened to and spoken to.  The things that carry over day to day, night to night and week to week and that build this solid ball of calm and trust and faith in your caregivers each day as you get older.

I don’t know what your first true memory will be. But I know that you-as-a-person extend back to before your memories could start to form. I want you to grow up knowing that you are yourself at every moment of your life. Not something that has yet to be, or something that once was.

You are a person for every single day that you are alive.

And you deserve to be treated as one.

<3 Mama

*Names changed

The Place We Met

Dear Daughter,

Third of three, you came after fourteen hours of labor on my side in a bed while I bled from a partial abruption unable to dance through the pain the way I had done with your brothers. Standing made the little black dots of falling-down rush in from all around my vision.

You were born in a hospital with a 24 hour anesthesiologist that I never requested, and shots of demerol that I turned down.

I do not see un-medicated labor as a test of womanhood. I do not see it as some sort of trial of pain. I do not believe that it is a curse of womankind following a bad decision over produce made by the first of our kind in a far distant past. I’m not overly worried about the side effects and risks of medication, even though I always have Every Single One and then top it off by vomiting.

It is simply the work that our bodies do together as you are born. It comes in waves as you navigate my body, and then it passes as we separate from one another. It is the force of gravity, of time, a passage we must make or both of us will die. It is universal to our species. And the pain tells me important things. It tells me when you are pressing against something that you should not be pressing against, because when I move and you pass that point, the pain lessens until it increases again and I move and it lessens as you turn and move and descend and crown and then I greet you and the pain recedes into the background.

I don’t turn down the medications to be a martyr. I don’t turn them down to prove a point. I don’t turn them down because birth is simple and easy.

I turn them down because this is something that we do together. That we both feel out. That we both move through. I do not need to be numbed while you bear the brunt of the work. I don’t need to sleep through your passage to wake up in time to push. I feel each movement that I need to make along the way.

I need to be there, to feel each moment, to be pulled outside of myself by concentrating so very hard. And then when it’s done I’m dropped back into place. I see nothing around me but you and your father. I pay no heed to the bustle of the doctor or the paintings on the walls. I could be here, at home, in a cave, in a bus stop, on the sidewalk. It does not matter where I am.

This is the place that we met, not a physical room in a hospital, but in the meeting of our eyes that very first time at the end of that long journey where time has little meaning and I barely notice that I’m still wearing that t-shirt that I had meant to take off at the start of labor before the bleeding began. I don’t care about the Pitocin in the drip started after your cord was cut and the blood kept coming. I’m consumed by you and not by the details surrounding me.

This is the place that our bodies build together as we work to have you born. The hormones that each of us release, the place we are both born into.

I birth you this way because I want to meet you on this equal footing. Not as an adult meeting an infant, but as two people greeting each other for the very first time in a place where nothing else matters.

Because I want to be there with you in all the meanings of the word.

<3 Mama

 

Why You Are Intact

Dear Sons,

Today the AAP released their analysis of the benefits and risks of circumcision. They have taken an odd hybrid stance where they say that the benefits outweigh the risks but that they cannot recommend routine infant circumcision. They also say that the risks of circumcision are “unknown” despite the fact that it is widely practiced still.

Both of you are intact.

I want you to know why.

Cleanliness and Infections… I have read up on proper care of the intact penis, not only the information that was given me. As with each part of your body- your ears, your toes, your nose, your lungs, your nutrition, your spine, I have read on how to help you to grow and how to keep you safe and healthy. This is my job as your mother. To understand how to care for each part of you. I understand that we live in a country that is unfamiliar with how your body will develop and I understand that I will be given bad and harmful advice that I need to ignore. In truth your body is so simple to care for. In truth your body develops on its own timeline, and the bits and bobs don’t have to pull back by a certain point or pull loose by a certain point, nor do they have to be moved around for cleaning. I also vehemently dismiss the idea that you cannot properly care for your own body and keep it clean with simple washings once you come of age. Your maleness is not a defect or an excuse to be filthy.  You will be clean, as your father is, because cleanliness is comfort. I do not need to treat you as though you are some filthy creature unable to use water. I would never think of your sister that way, and I will never think of you that way.

STDs.. As for the idea that I need to amputate part of your body to protect you against HPV or HIV, I find this similarly distasteful. You will not accidentally inhale HIV in a crowded marketplace when someone coughs on your intact foreskin. You will not accidentally scrape your intact foreskin on a rusty nail full of HPV while walking in the woods. In this country, for men, HPV and HIV come from a behavior of choice, an assumption of risks. Circumcision adds little if anything to the protection provided by a barrier method which is practically foolproof. And circumcision alone provides a laughably poor level of protection against these STDs to the point where there has been a huge rise in infection rates among circumcised men following the studies that show this “benefit”. As you grow I will teach you about these things, and about risks and trust and love and choices and options and the ways to choose safer paths. The choice of adult circumcision, vaccines such as the HPV vaccine, and any other emerging information that is available at the time will also be something I will share with you. I have no plans to simply watch you come of age and push you out the door with your surgical scar from infancy and think “I’ve done my part.”

Cancer.. Your penile cancer risk is tiny. You have a higher risk of dying from breast cancer. Yes. Breast cancer. You. A male. Your risk of dying from breast cancer is higher than your risk of dying from penile cancer. In 2012 it is estimated that 2190 cases of male breast cancer will be diagnosed and 490 men will die from this. 1570 men will be diagnosed with penile cancer and 310 will die from this. I do not have a bilateral mastectomy performed on you at birth. To my knowledge there have been no studies done on the benefits of this surgery when performed on newborn males or females. Additionally, your risk of cancer overall can be reduced by not engaging in casual sex, not smoking, and generally being healthy. I choose to focus on those things rather than resort to an amputation in your infancy.

The “Unknown Risks”… Each year more boys die from circumcisions than from choking. Each year toddlers have to undergo “revisions” of surgeries that went wrong or circumcisions that grew together or formed adhesions and scar tissue. Each year boys deal with the side effects of heavy bleeding. The AAP themselves say that the risks are largely unknown, even as they say that the benefits outweigh these risks. The “risks” of leaving your body just as it is are well known, statistically tiny, and very treatable if they occur. I don’t like the whole idea of a study that is unlike any other study done. We haven’t looked into the benefits of routine toenail removal in infancy. We haven’t looked into the benefits of routine ear tubes in infancy. Surgeries are done if they are required because of a deformity or problem, not as a routine part of the care of an infant. Studying things like this rubs me the wrong way. We all have many things that could be cut off from our bodies. I do not want those things to be removed. They are mine.

Religion… I do not have a God or gods that command me to sacrifice a part of your body for my own convictions, and even if I did I am not raising you to join lockstep in a religion of my choosing. While I hope that you find your faith and comfort in the ways that I have found mine so that we can celebrate such things together, I cannot assume. Our hearts and souls speak strongly to each of us, and I will not mold your body in preparation for a religion that may not speak to you. When you grow if you hear in your heart that this is something that God asks of you, I shall celebrate your choice as you become a man of your religion having listened to God with your own heart.Your body is not a canvas for my personal convictions.

Gender Differences… I am writing this to you, my sons. I am not writing a similar letter to your sister, my daughter. The female body has things far more complex and prone to far more annoyances than that foreskin of yours. Yet women are not modified at birth to reduce the risks or annoyances posed by our bodies. I question the idea that we are allowed to modify you because you are a boy, when we understand well that we must leave your sister alone.

Choice.. This is what it comes down to. The data available on the “benefits” of having this done to you as an infant.. Not compelling enough to remove this choice of yours about your body. Some may feel that this is a choice that needs to be made by a parent in a boy’s infancy. I feel strongly that this is a choice that must be made by you as an adult

For me, it’s about respect. I respect you as you were born, as you grow, and I will respect the choices that you make as an adult.

<3 Mama

 

Your Body, Your Space

Dear Kids,

The oldest of you has already started being exposed to teasing. The younger two of you have yet to be.

Let me tell you a secret. You will be teased no matter what. For attracting attention or for not attracting attention. For being different or for falling lock-step. Everyone is teased, no matter what. It is inescapable.

I was teased for having the name Sarah. This was one of the most common names for the year that I was born.

I was teased for being tall and skinny. These are traits that apparently many girls and women wish for.

I was teased for what I wore, even though what I wore was totally unremarkable and not very different from what anyone else wore.

And if I had not been teased for those things I would have been teased for something else.

There are millions of people in the world. Each of us is different but each those differences is really nothing unique. For each thing that we are, many people are. For each thing we like, many people like that very same thing.

You cannot avoid the teasing. No one can. What you can do is you can make a choice about how to react.

Look at the teaser’s shirt. Do you really like his shirt better than the one you chose for yourself? Why is his like better than yours? It’s just different.

Look at the teaser’s hair. Do you really like his hair cut better than the one you chose for yourself? Why is his better than yours? It’s just different.

You can just as easily make fun of him and his choices as he can make fun of yours.

That’s the secret about teasing. Anyone can tease anyone for anything, and even though it hurts it’s completely meaningless.

Pick your style. It’s yours. Not anyone else’s. Not your father’s, not mine, not your brother’s, not your friends or classmates. Your body is YOUR space for what you like and don’t like, what you feel and what you think. It belongs to no one but you.

If anyone questions it, just ask them why they are trying to make you feel bad about something that you like. It’s fine if they don’t like it- we don’t all like the same things. But it’s really rather rude of them to tell you so. You don’t tell them that you don’t like their shoes or their hair or the way they walk or their voice because all of those things are their things that make them who they are.

Chances are they were made to feel bad about something that they really really liked and just didn’t have the support and love to stick to their choices, and they’ve learned that teasing and being mean is okay.

That’s sad.

Everyone should be exactly who they are, just like you are being. Choose the things that make you happy and don’t let others rob your joy.

Rock your style as you discover who you are.

<3 Mama

Mine to Love

Shh.. Just the two of us in a dim-lit room. No matter how small you’ve been you’re as small as you’re ever going to be. Sharply sweet with milky breath and chubby cheeks. Quiet calm even though you do not sleep. I can lay like this forever, eyes locked in the dark. Your fingers wrapped around my thumb. “They” say not to make eye contact. How could I not? Instead I’ll kiss your forehead and breathe you deep. They can do what they want with their babies, but you are mine to love at all hours of the day.

Pumping Too Much Milk is Not Good

I label my milk as “three hours” instead of “three ounces”

This year I planted an experimental garden. Among the plants I chose were cherry tomatoes. These little tomatoes are very prolific. So prolific in fact that I cannot pick them all and handfulls of them fall to the ground to rot and be eaten by insects.

They over-produce. We get several pounds of tomatoes each day.

When my daughter was born, I over-produced too.

This led me to have engorgement, mastitis and painful leaky breasts. It led my baby to have frothy green poops and painful gas that kept her up at night crying because her belly hurt from all the milk.

I was able to pump 9 ounces in a single session after she took a longer nap, and then wake her up and nurse her until her belly was full.

This is TERRIBLE.

Unless you are exclusively pumping (in which case you want to pump as much milk as you can to overcome supply stabilization and the difficulties of exclusive pumping), pumping large amounts is never a good thing.

With her oldest brother I was barely able to pump, and I was so jealous of the women who could pump ounces at a time. At most I was able to pump a quarter of an ounce from both breasts combined. He exclusively breastfed for 6 months, gained like a chubberoo, and then went on to continue nursing until he self-weaned at 3.

With her middle brother I was able to pump a lot. But by then I understood that is not necessarily a good thing.

Like the cherry tomatoes, when you over-produce the leftovers go to waste. If you do not remove the milk from your breasts, it can cause mastitis. If you do remove the milk from your breasts you maintain an oversupply that eats away at your nutritional reserves in order to feed bags in a freezer. Bags that pose just as much of a threat to your supply as those cans of formula I refused to bring home.

Oversupply is not a good thing unless you’re looking to feed another baby from the pumped milk.

Ideally you make exactly what your baby needs, no more and no less. When your baby’s needs change the change in nursing patterns tells your breasts to adapt the milk to meet baby’s needs without stretching his belly. Through this he learns to nurse until his needs are met. Not to stuff himself. Not to over-eat. But to nurse until his needs are met and he pops off ready to explore the world.

I realize now what I didn’t realize before. Breastfeeding is not a milk making competition. A stockpile of hundreds of ounces is not always necessary and is not always good. Pumping that much milk destroys mom’s nutritional reserves, and weaning from those pumping sessions can be hard. Too many bottles from a stockpile can destroy mom’s milk supply or give baby bottle preference causing her to go from oversupply to a bottle fed baby while wondering what happened.

Breastfeeding is supply and demand, not something that needs to be stockpiled. Even if I have to return to work it’s best to pump what you eat while we are separated rather than having massive stores of milk that make it tempting to skip a pump break here and there and that allow my supply to slowly spiral.

I like to keep an emergency supply on hand, but that can be built up without needing to pump huge amounts.

a half ounce to 3 ounces is average pump output and does not run that much of a risk of mom having too much oversupply. I tend to stop pumping once I hit the three ounce marker. That’s three hours worth of milk in a bag that I label as “three hours” just so no one will be confused about how much to feed the baby while I’m gone.

A healthy supply is maintained by feeding baby from the breast whenever possible, using bottles as seldom as possible, feeding smaller amounts by bottle, and not being tempted to maintain or use a huge stash of either pumped milk or formula.

You Are Not Crying to Manipulate Me

Dear Daughter,

You are not crying to manipulate me. You are crying because you are hungry and I missed your quieter cues. You are asking to nurse because your little belly tells you that it is time and because a louder voice is the only way that you have to tell me after you’ve chewed on your hands and stuck your tongue out and tried to get my busy-adult attention when I was distracted by trying to wash your brother’s sheets.

You are not crying to manipulate me, you are asking to sit up because you want to see things and do things. You have an incredible inquisitive mind that wants to drink the whole world in. You are frustrated by your lack of independence.

You are not crying to manipulate me. You are crying because a noise that I have come to understand and ignore has startled you. All of the things that you heard before you were born were softened by the waters that you floated in and the muscle and skin that kept you safe. How jagged must the world sound now?

You are not crying to manipulate me. You are crying because the world is overstimulating. You crave the supported independence of our arms where you can bury your face against our chest when it all becomes too much. You crave the nearness that allows you to sync your breath and your heartbeat to ours. You crave the closeness that allows you to startle as you do reflexively, but then learn to find your calm in ours as we understand what is and is not safe.

You are not crying to manipulate me. You are crying because you want to sit up, to look around, to see all of the things that you know are there but that you cannot turn to, stuck on your back or your belly without the physical independence that you need. You crave the supported independence that you feel when you cling to me and move your head freely as you look around.

Asking something from me is not manipulation, and you don’t yet have the words to ask with anything but tears.

I don’t need to worry about your motivations.

I just have to ask this: Is what you want possible right now? Is what you want something that is healthy for you? Is what you want out of line with something that you need?

Later when you learn to ask for ice cream and then cry over your upset I will give you comfort.

Right now, though, every want is aligned with a need. And every need of yours is simple enough for me to meet.

<3 Mama

Wrap Baby (WIO)

I love wraps and babywearing because they put so much sleep related stuff under baby’s control. A baby in a wrap has supported independence. They are able to make choices about their comfort and are actively involved in how and when they fall asleep.

When she is wide awake she pops her head out of the wrap and turns it side to side. She is interested, alert, observing. She makes eye contact with people around her and strikes up her own conversations of smiles and coos. She kicks her feet when she is excited by something that she sees and we move towards it.

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When she is sleepy she pulls her head back in, tucking herself under my chin and letting the wrap cover her mouth while she chews on it calmly.

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And then moments later she closes her eyes and she falls asleep.

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She has control over her stimulation levels, her body position, and she makes the choice to fall asleep when she is ready and be awake when she is not. She is learning how to calm herself, how to sleep, how to relax in a comfortable place.

She is not on her back unable to move to find a comfortable position. She is not on her belly helpless. No one is deciding for her that it is time to sleep or time to wake.

She startles when a loud sound surprises her, bobs her head until she’s comfy, and settles back into sleep.

It is supported independence. Much like holding a baby’s hands for early steps before they have the confidence to do it on their own.

Sure, they could choose to hold your hands a while longer, but human children are driven by the desire to be independent. They cling only when something is wrong.

And when something is wrong, I want to be there for them to cling to.

I am happy with this pace as we wait it out.