Monthly Archives: December 2012

All The Wants I Hope to Be (2013)

At the end of this old year, heading into the beginning of the new year it’s tempting to declare all the many wants that I hope to be in 2013.

I wanted to say something profound here. Something about letting go of things, about embracing things, about finding gleeful joy and bliss.

Instead I find myself thinking about the things that I wish to become in 2013. I have things that I wish to be better at. Don’t we all?

I don’t need to wait for the first minute of 2013, or the first morning of 2013. I can start now at 9:51PM on December 31 2012. Just like I can start on January 2nd if January 1st doesn’t work out. Or April 3rd if things drag that far. I can start at any moment. I can succeed at any attempt. I can fail and try again.

I do not need to put down all of the goals and things that I wish to accomplish or change or become this year. I know those goals inside my head, my heart, and my soul.

And so this year my written list of resolutions is short.

“I will try again.”

Wind Down Cuddles (from the archives)

(From the archives- December 2008 when my first child was two):

My son will be dancing, running around, laughing, climbing things he knows are not to be climbed.  He will refuse hugs, and push away a kissing face with indignant protests of “Nooo Nooo!”

And then something will change. His little eyelids will droop and he’ll start to pull his ears, rub his eyes, and scrunch at his hair with little toddler fists.

“Are you tired, sweetie?” I’ll ask.

“Noooooo” he’ll say, shaking his little head for good measure, and then he’ll climb up into my lap. “Mama, NURSH!” he’ll say. “Peeeeeez?” and he’ll sign “nurse, please” as perfect and as sweet as one could ever hope for.

And he’ll nurse, and we’ll cuddle and I’ll get all of those kisses and hugs in that I missed across the day. This is our time.

Or maybe he’ll be feeling rotten with teething pain, frustrated with not being allowed to play in the toilet, and utterly miserable in a way that only a two year old can feel. Maybe he’ll have spent the day yelling at me, refusing to do anything, and trying to write on the walls. Maybe he’ll have spent more time in time-out than in time-in, less as a punishment and more because I’m worried that his little head is going to explode.

And at some point the two of us will look at one another, both equally miserable about this day of ours, and equally sad at how frustrating this world can be to a little explorer that is not yet able to explore independently…

“Mama, NURSH. Peeeez.” My little ragamuffin will say, and crawl into my lap to cuddle and reconnect as sweetly as you please.

I’m convinced that breastfeeding, and the closeness and reconnection that breastfeeding offers is a crucial tool for parenting through the tumult of toddlerhood. It’s a comfort both to mom and child. It’s a reassurance of love. It’s an availability that might otherwise fall away to all the chores that we have to do, the websites we feel we must read, the work we need to accomplish.

There are people that say we’re babying our toddlers, a concept I can’t quite fathom. They are babies still. Confused, frustrated, often emotionally unstable little babies that need us more than ever, but whose little egos can’t quite allow them to admit that in their quest for independence.

We’re told that we need to let our children grow up. To some, this might mean throwing our children in over their heads in order to teach them to swim. To me, it means gently allowing my child to use me as a life raft until he’s ready to swim on his own, so that his first strokes can be confident and effective instead of tear-stained, snotty and panicked.

He is only two. He is too young to be on his own. I encourage his independence at this age, I do not require it. As with any milestone, his weaning off of the breast and off of that need for intense comfort, shall be met at his pace, his time, and as he needs.

To me, that is motherhood.

Fifteen Second Switch- Getting a Frustrated Baby to Latch

One of my favorite breastfeeding tricks is the “Fifteen Second Switch”.

When to do it: When baby is frustrated at the breast, is latching on eagerly for a few seconds and then popping off, fussing, screaming or refusing to nurse. When baby is acting ravenous but is unwilling to feed. When baby is acting like your breasts are empty. When baby is acting like he “prefers the bottle”. When you feel like you’re not letting down fast enough. During growth spurts when your baby is divinely fussy. When baby is overstimulated and can’t settle to nurse. This tactic is mostly used for older babies who have established breastfeeding and who are going through a period of temporary frustration due to teething, over-stimulation, etc.

What to do: Switch sides.  Every few sucks or every 15 seconds if needed. Whenever baby pops off of one side, switch the baby to the other side even if you’re switching every 15 seconds for an hour before baby settles.

Why it works: This is actually how most other mammals nurse. If you watch monkeys in a zoo, kittens or puppies, piglets, or calves, they switch sides quite often, especially as they get a bit older and mom’s supply stabilizes. It helps speed up letdown, baby gets a few drops of milk from the breast each time he switches, it helps signal to mom’s body that she should let down faster, make more milk, make milk with a different composition for baby’s needs, etc. If baby is uncomfortable because of a gas bubble the change in position can sometimes help the bubble bubble out. And if baby is frustrated and resisting one side, the switching of sides can help baby re-set and settle for a moment or two rather than arch their back and scream on one side. If baby is overstimulated sometimes they’ll take a little while to settle and mom offering the other side helps them focus on one thing and shut off some of the over-stimulation.

Use with: Use with other soothing tricks. Recognize that sometimes babies find breastfeeding to be soothing, but when you’re having to do the fifteen second switches it’s usually not very soothing for baby and baby needs some extra help. Try dancing or bouncing while you nurse. Try rocking baby. Try rubbing baby’s head or back. Try holding baby skin to skin. Try taking a warm bath with baby while you nurse. Try “shhing” or singing to the baby. Try taking baby away from anything over-stimulating into a dark room. Or try to walk around with baby while you nurse so that baby can look at things.

What to avoid: When baby’s refusing to nurse the worst reaction is to give a bottle. (Unless there is truly an issue with supply and baby is having difficulty gaining weight and/or not making enough wet diapers per 24 hours). Giving bottles can quickly lead to flow preference and a decrease in mom’s supply, and are often a road to needing to supplement on a regular basis or even a road to early weaning.

What to keep in mind: You’ll want to make sure baby’s diaper is clean and dry, that baby doesn’t need to burp or fart, and that baby is not sensitive to something in your diet. Look for patterns in the behavior. Did you just eat something new for the first time? Is your period starting soon? Does baby get upset at a particular time every day? The fifteen second switch is very useful for when baby is impatient with letdown, but if baby is screaming and refusing to nurse because they have reflux that gets aggravated by dairy in your diet.. It won’t do much without a dietary change on your part.

Eight Months: Teething and Mobility

Dearest Daughter,

I’ve been wanting to write to you for a while, here on the “other side” of six months. Life has been chaotic, though. Packed with many things, both positive and stressful. Joyful and not. In other words, it has been life.

We are on the other side of six months now. The past two months have flashed by in the blink of an eye, even though the days themselves seem so long sometimes.

You are not much closer to sleep in terms of how well you sleep at night, but you are closer in terms of what you have learned and what you are learning.

Right now, you see, you are cutting teeth. You are learning to sleep when you are uncomfortable. This is something that I, as an adult, still have trouble with. A headache, the throbbing of the toe your brother broke a month ago, or the ache of an overused muscle.. Those things can all make my sleep restless. Your teeth will make you restless too. You are learning to resettle yourself. This means that sometimes you can do it on your own and sometimes you need some help.

Right now, you are learning to crawl. Your brain is abuzz with the desire, the need, the building blocks of coordination and motivation. You are driven by this instinct, this milestone, this desire. Sometimes it keeps you awake at night as your little body moves and tries to be at peace in a sleep that used to come easily for you. Soon this movement will be a good thing for you, as you will be able to crawl to the spot you want, pick the position that is comfortable, and snuggle down all on your own. But right now it is chaotic and uncomfortable for you. It makes it hard for you to settle down, and so you need help at finding your peace.

Right now you have learned to accept comfort in your daddy’s arms as you have long accepted comfort in mine. So while you do not yet sleep through the night I am able to snatch some extra time as you and your father find the peace of sleep together those times that you just need the reassurance of our nearness.

You still need night nursings, as that is part of the pattern of us. Of my supply, of your demand, of your metabolism and of mine. Of your activity level and the number of calories you need. Of the solids that you eat, and the nourishment that you need.

Right now you are figuring out the organization of your daytime naps, your daytime feeds, and how you need to comfort nurse, to nurse for food, to eat your solids, to strive to move, to play with each person in your family as you see them.

Right now you are learning language. Babbling long strings of syllables and practicing different intonations and pitch. You have begun to copy the sounds that we make, sometimes when you can.

You are learning so much all at once. Of course you need some extra help with sleep right now.

So here on the other side of six months.. We are still waiting it out. But in the new things we are facing I see the glimmer of the light at the end of the tunnel. Because each of these things that keep you awake now.. Also hold the key to the things you need to know to truly learn to sleep on your own.

I can help you as you learn to find your peace.
I can comfort you through the things you struggle with right now.
I can help you get that sleep you need to learn those things that you are learning.

And now your daddy can too.

I see him now in the night, through the light that filters in through the blinds. He holds you close against his chest and whispers quiet soothing things to you. He has that same slowed-down-to-the-moment peaceful timelessness that I have come to associate with those late night wakings.

When we are with you in the dark hours of the night there is no clock ticking forwards, there is no goal, there is nothing needing to be changed. There is simply closeness, comfort in the moment, and then we all sleep.

So yes. I will keep on waiting it out even now at eight months. And your daddy will too. We’ll share those murky sweet moments with each other and with you.

Sleep will come on its own time as it does each night. We don’t need to waste precious moments of your infancy battling for something that we will get every single night once you are grown.

We’ll share our calm with you, so your own calm can set its roots deep inside and grow strong on its own time.

<3 Mama

No Questions Asked: How We Support Other Moms

(Written for a friend who is a passionate provider of breastfeeding advice to explain my personal take on providing support to moms.)

With my daughter’s birth I had two nurses.

The first nurse had birthed her own children without any painkillers. She had a rhythm that her births had drilled into her. She moved with me, her hands pausing at contractions and touching gently between. She relaxed me and I settled into the course of things with her support, retreating into my own world to focus on those things that needed to be focused on.  She did the things that she needed to do, and was a pleasant motherly presence that made me feel safe and protected. I was an easy patient, and smiled at her and thanked her when I could.

The second nurse moved by routine and offered many things that she felt would be comforting but did not have the rhythm that the first nurse did. Her touch crashed into the contractions, causing me to tense up in pain and object with the only words that I could muster. “Stop. No. Don’t.” I was not an easy patient. I spoke in short-hand. I tensed up at the sight of her, knowing that her well-meaning ministrations would hurt, pull me out of the focus I needed, and that I could not make her understand.

She wanted to check my dilation, something that I allowed my previous nurse to do without complaint (I had heavy bleeding so they needed to keep an eye on the bleeding and progress). This is something I found tolerable between contractions and excruciating during.  I had previously used those words “Stop. No. Don’t.” I had previously tried to say “Not during a contraction”. I was not being understood.

The words that I needed to clearly communicate were that “I know that you need to check my dilation. I am not telling you not to do your job. I am asking you to do it when I am not having a contraction. If you can wait until this contraction passes and do it as fast as you can once the contraction is over it won’t hurt and I won’t complain.”

I needed those words in the middle of transition, the most intense part of childbirth where the intensity is so strong that I could not manage to ask for the blue plastic bag that I needed to catch the vomit that my body threatened me with every contraction. I was bed-ridden for the labor with my daughter, which made it all the more intense.

This nurse of mine needed to hear that I was not telling her that she couldn’t do her job, that I understood what she needed to do, that I would let her do her job, and that I was just asking her to please do it a little bit differently if she could. Shifting things around by centimeters or seconds made all the difference.

As soon as I managed to speak those words, she understood not only what I was trying to tell her, but she understood more that when I asked for something to be done a little bit differently it was not because I had a birth plan that I wanted to adhere to, but because I was struggling and those little things made my struggle easier.

I see this pattern all the time in support forums where mothers and parents are giving and getting advice. It spirals threads into name calling, “mommy guilt”, “mommy wars” and accusations of bashing and drama.

When we are supporting women in breastfeeding, in parenting, in labor or in recovery.. It is important that we try and recognize when someone is stretched to their maximum ability to cope. When a person is stretched this far, the things that we do to try and help can stretch them further.

Often when a person asks a specific question they are seeking a specific answer. They have chosen a path that they feel will take them where they need to go. They are getting advice from everyone in their life that is stretching them thinner and thinner and thinner. They are sleep deprived, emotionally vulnerable, and in a storm of hormones.

When we accidentally upset someone with information or questions.. We need to step back. We need to apologize. We need to reassure. And we need to LISTEN. More often than not we have accidentally piled more on top of someone who is struggling to cope.

We need to ask ourselves “Are we supporting the individual mother that we are trying to help, or are we simply supporting breastfeeding in general?” Because when we are supporting the MOTHER, we need to support her on an individual level and not from a checklist of best practices.

The goal needs to be to make it easier for her to continue doing what it is that she wants to do and this “thing” we believe in. Not to make her question her choices any more than she probably already does.

In order to do this we need to look at how we phrase the information about the catch-22’s and the best practices and the booby-traps. She needs to know that they are suggestions and informational bullet points and not indictments of her judgement or parenting skills.

Our goal in being “support providers” should be never to be so in love with an idea that we accidentally hurt the feelings of a person.

Broken Expectations

Dear Alexander-in-the-Middle,

You are two and a half. You are quickly entering the magical realm of not quite understanding how specific language can be.

You’ll have a mental picture in your head of a potato roll. You’ll ask for it using the words you know. “Mommy I want some bread!” and I’ll say “Of COURSE you can have some bread.” and I’ll go to the table and get the oat bread that I know you like, and I’ll give it to you and your little heart and brain will break in the upset and disappointment that I broke the promise to “get you bread” by trying to give you something you did not ask for. In your mind you understand deeply that “bread” is that potato roll that you had pictured in your memory.  Your upset is bigger than it would be if I simply told you “No. No bread.” because I PROMISED YOU BREAD and I BROKE THAT PROMISE.

Or you’ll ask for green pancakes when your brain remembers green as blue, or as polka dots of green, or as something else that daddy made you that weekend that I slept in. And I PROMISED YOU GREEN PANCAKES and I BROKE THAT PROMISE.

Or you’ll ask for a story that you think you remember the name of. “Want to read Yertle, mommy! Want to read Yertle!” and your world will shatter when I go to read you Yertle, because you actually wanted to read that book about the Grinch and the Who’s in Whoville.

Or you’ll ask me to cut your toast and I’ll ask you “strips or triangles” and you’ll say “strips” while you picture triangles, and then you’ll be SO upset that I didn’t listen carefully enough and that I didn’t see that picture in your head.

I used to become upset. It felt like a lack of gratitude. I did what you asked. I went out of my way to do what you asked. I spent energy on doing that thing. All I wanted was to make you happy, and here you are yelling at me and saying “I HIT YOU MOMMY” because you’re so angry at these broken “promises” that you want to hit everything around you.

Now I understand. What you were picturing in your head doesn’t match up with the words you used, you don’t fully understand that more words are needed to paint a picture of what it is that you need. This is something that adults have trouble enough with.

Now I say quietly “I’m sorry you’re disappointed, Sasha. I didn’t understand what you meant by “strips”. And next time I ask him how he wants it cut, I try to draw it with my finger first. Or I try to show him the color, or I change the way I say that he can have bread by turning it into a question. “this type of bread? No? This type of bread? Yes? That’s called POTATO BREAD. It’s made with potatoes. Isn’t that awesome? Yes you can have potato bread. Do you want to eat it like this? It is cold and soft. Do you want it to be warm and crunchy in the toaster?”

You won’t learn to describe things better if I send you to time out over your hurt feelings. You’ll learn through my using my words.

I can use my words, sweet child, so that you can learn to use yours.

<3 Mama

Tragic Violence and Empathy

Dear Kids,

I hear so much about school shootings and about suicides in teenagers that it’s hard for my heart not to hurt and for me not to feel afraid for this world that you are growing up in, where children feel that life revolves around violence. Some people explode inwards and some people explode outwards, and either way the result is horrible.

Every time it happens I hear all the parents around me chattering about “how can we protect our children from this?” as though the threat comes from the outside, as though the children that go on to do these things could never be one of ours. I don’t hear parents asking themselves “how can we make sure our children never do this?”  We seldom hear anything outside of the same old pat answers about why kids go on to do these things. “Video games”, “guns”, “black leather trench coats”, “bullying”.

Of course I ask myself how I can keep you safe. But I also ask how I can keep you safe from becoming someone so sad, so angry, so frustrated, so explosive, so isolated, so.. any of those things, that you could put yourself and others at risk? Every one of these people who have gone on to kill others.. They’ve been a child at one point. They’ve been small. They’ve been fed and nurtured by someone. They’ve grown from infancy through toddlerhood, into children, they’ve passed through classes in school, and they’ve emerged on the other side desperate and unhappy and vengeful and scared and destructive and not caring about the lives of others or of themselves.

As I read to you at night, I look at the pages of the books and at the characters in the books and I ask you how you think the characters feel. Do they look happy? Do they look sad? Do they look angry? What do you think the character wants right now? What do you think the character needs?

When you hit each other or when you hurt each other I do not scold you, I try to come stand beside you and I say “Look at him. Look at how he is crying. When you cry that way, how do you feel inside?” And I hold your hurt sibling and you both close.

I know that you were angry when he took your toy.
I know that you were hurt when she hit you.
I know that you were hurt when he wouldn’t share.
I know that you are hurting now as you listen to each other cry.
I know that you are hurting for yourself.
I also know that you are hurting for your brother/sister because you love them too.
I know that you had a lot of anger inside of you.
I know that each of you is small right now and you’re still learning.

What can you do different next time?

I explore different things with you. We breathe together. Both deep breaths, and short ones. We hum. We punch punching bags. We stomp our feet. You hit my hands with balled up angry fists and you hit the punching bag and we talk about those things that you feel so very deeply that they just need to come out. We shake up akla seltzer tablets in old 35 millimeter film canisters and stand back while they pop open and shoot themselves into the air. We poke holes in the lids to see how many holes there need to be for it all to come out slowly. We talk about letting our feelings out and keeping them in. We talk about safe things and dangerous things. We smash ice cubes with rubber mallets and then we try to put them back together. One bang! Big pieces. Two bangs! Smaller pieces. Five bangs! It’s ice dust quickly melting on the hot summer pavement. We grow plants, we tend to them, we pull up weeds. We learn together about creation and destruction. About nurturing and neglect. We talk about how we feel when we eat certain foods, about how we feel when we watch too much TV, about how we feel after we’ve just played at the playground or chased each other around. About how the different parts of our lives flow together across the day.

When you are angry and yelling at me, I ask if you’re angry. I ask how you want to let the anger out. I ask you about the consequences of different ways of letting the anger out.

Sometimes your anger bubbles up and out in threats where you tell me that you want to hit me or hurt me and you tell me how very angry you are and how you want to do something terrible or how you want me to go away and never come back.

I ask you simply and calmly “What do you think would happen if you did that?” “How do you think I would feel? How do you think you would feel?”  Do you maybe mean that you’re really really really upset because you can’t have what you want, and you just want to tell me how upset you are?”

Often your eyes suddenly come back into focus on the world outside of your hurt and your anger, and you look into my eyes, all those hard and hurting emotions spent out.

“I feel like I want to tell you that I hate you. But I don’t really hate you. I just hate that you won’t let me have ice cream right now because I really really want it so bad that I feel like maybe I hate you. I just really want ice cream.”

And I tell you that I understand because a long time ago back I was small too, and when you’re small everything feels soooo big. And that even as you grow things will feel so big and so huge. That when something feels really really big I’ll talk to your dad or I’ll talk to Gramma and they’ll help me see how small it really is, or they’ll help me remember to let the feelings out.

What I don’t do is this: I won’t get angry at your anger. I won’t get angry at your upset. I won’t get angry at your desire to change those things that will not be changed. I will not send you off alone to deal with those hardest of emotions all alone. I won’t send you into time out or tell you that you should be ashamed of your tears. I won’t accuse you of manipulating me when you share your feelings.

I’ll sit there in the room with you while you process the things that you need to process. I’ll keep it about you without making it about me.

Not because I think that this will keep you safe from all of the people out there that are hurting or that are mentally ill.

But because I want to teach you that you never need to explode that way. You do not need to explode into yourself. You do not need to explode out of yourself. All of those Really Really Big Things You Feel Inside have reasons and meaning and we can talk about them and get them all out, and if they’re ever too big for you and I to handle, I will help you find the help that you need.

I will focus on you right now as each of you grow.

I can teach you how to let stress and anger out. I can teach you to seek help if you are ever overwhelmed. I can teach you to let go and breathe deep. I can teach you empathy. I can repeat it often enough that I hope you will always remember: You can talk to me. About anything. I will listen.

When you talk to me about the bully in kindergarten, I will listen. When you talk to me about the music teacher you have a crush on, I will listen. When you talk to me about how anger or sadness make you feel, I will listen.  I will listen when you are two and a half and tell me that you want to hit me. I will listen when you are six and tell me your sad and angry or fearful things. I will listen when you are fourteen, sixteen, twenty, thirty..

I will do this not because I view you as a ticking time bomb, but because I see you as a child young and eager to learn. Because I see you as someone struggling to control your strong childhood emotions. Because I see the progress each of you makes as you move through the different stages of your life.

I don’t believe it’s enough to leave every child to their own devices to navigate their emotions and hope that they’ll come out with a healthy understanding of the things that they feel. I see your childhood as the time to teach you how to cope with the strength of your feelings, how to speak and be listened to, how to seek out resources and how to solve problems. I don’t believe it’s wise to wait until the child hits their teens before we talk about difficult emotions. I don’t think that it’s fair to tell you as a child to tantrum somewhere else alone, then ask you as a teenager to talk to me.

These beliefs do not come from wanting to make sure you never grow up to be a dangerous person, they come from wanting to make sure you grow up a happy and resilient one.

<3 Mama

** This post is about my personal experience with the children that I have. There are many children that suffer from mental illness which cannot be kissed or hugged away. These kids need help from the outside.

Dear Dr. Phil

Dear Dr. Phil,

Your recent show has made it very clear that you don’t understand what Attachment Parenting is all about. You have confused it with permissive and narcissistic parenting, which is very much not in line with AP in the slightest. You have highlighted permissive and narcissistic parenting styles and have called them “Attachment Parenting”.

Not knowing the meaning of the word “no” is permissive parenting. A permissive parent is a selfish brat who places their own need to be loved by their child ahead of what the child actually needs. A permissive parent will give their child a cookie if the child throws a tantrum. Or will just buy cookies to give to the child because they think the child wants cookies. A permissive parent will face their child forwards in the car seat before the child is ready to face forwards safely because “they want to see things!” Permissive parenting actually crosses over a lot into mainstream parenting in those ways.

Not allowing a child to spend time with anyone other than themselves is selfish abusive parenting, or is the parenting of someone who has legitimate concerns for their child’s safety. Attachment Parents generally place tremendous value on family and friends and believe in fostering relationships with many people so that their children have a wide network of emotional support and a lot of people to learn from.

Attachment Parents view separation anxiety as a natural part of infancy that fades when the child is able to understand certain things and when the child’s desire to explore and be around other children outweighs the child’s need to keep us in eyesight all the time. We believe in working with our children to become comfortable with the idea of being in different environments with different people at different times in their lives. We understand that if separation anxiety persists or becomes worse it is a social anxiety that needs to be overcome.

Attachment Parents recognize that children have many different personality attributes just as they may have different hair colors, eye colors, different body types, different facial features, and hair of different textures. We understand that our parenting needs to adapt with each different child because a “one size fits all” approach of any sort is doomed for failure.

Attachment Parents do not sleep with their children against their child’s will. Attachment parents sleep with children that need more nighttime parenting, and encourage independent sleep in those who are fine with that independence. (I personally LOVE to sleep without small feet in my eyeballs, and with more than an inch or two of space to myself.)

Attachment Parenting is not threatening my relationship with my partner. It is making my relationship with him stronger. By talking about parenting issues that we face, we listen to each other and we approach things as a team rather than one of us declaring that our way is The Only Way to Do Something. I listen to my partner with every bit as much zeal as I listen to my children.

Indulgent parenting takes the easy way out by throwing everything under the sun at their kids in the hopes that the parent can avoid doing any real work and the child will obey out of appreciation.

Strict parenting takes another easy way out by refusing to acknowledge the validity of emotions such as anger, sadness and disappointment. Strict parenting labels legitimate emotions as “manipulative” and tries to wall children off from their parents so that the parents will be sheltered from the emotions that the children have.

Attachment parenting is a lot of hard work. It means LISTENING. It means understanding. It means working with the child. Attachment parents don’t hide from the difficult emotions- be it through giving the child everything that they want or through putting our feet down and declaring that the child’s deepest feelings are just an attempt at controlling us.

I think that if you learned a little bit more about what Attachment Parenting really is.. Maybe you’d be ready to let go of the controversy and focus on something that truly damages children.

You can just as easily do a show on indulgent parenting, which is very damaging. Or a show on the effect of discouraging our children from expressing emotions rather than helping them understand what it is that they’re feeling.

Somehow I doubt that you have any interest in doing that, though. It’s easier to hold onto what we think we know than it is to listen to the things that we think we disagree with.

-Sarah

Eight Months and a Future Weaning

Dear Daughter,

Eight months today. Happy birthday little bird.

Skin to skin under the blankets, both of us sick with a cold and fever-warm against each other. You hum while you nurse, and stare into my eyes from behind your crazy-curly hair. You kick your feet against the bed next to us and you jump while you nurse, popping off sometimes to babble to me and to stick out your pointy little anteater tongue. You raise your eyebrows and shriek that high-pitched shriek of yours, then smile at the sound and gobble back down at double-speed to make up for the moments you just spent not nursing.

How you have changed in the eight months that I’ve known you. And how many times you will change again before you wean. How different you are from your brothers, even with all similarities that come from being siblings.

Today I can’t foresee the future, I can only know the past and experience the now.

Weaning is on my mind today. Not because of plans that I have for your weaning as you approach a year, but because the world is full of people with many opinions. People that have never met you or I, that have never breastfed, or that weaned for their own reasons on their own timelines after they met their own goals or after their own lives caused them to make their own wise decisions about their “when” and their “how”.

Their words make me wonder, sometimes. And I go off on a reading binge as I try to make certain of the truth of my beliefs that you should choose your own weaning time based on your own inner clock that determined when you were to be born, that determines when you will speak, when you will walk, and that God-willing will one day determine when you are to die at the end of the longest of lives that your body can live.

People have so many opinions about the lives of others, even others that they have never met. And as opinions go, the less informed the opinion is the stronger it tends to be worded. I guess that’s something that people do sometimes to make up for a lack of information. If they say it strongly enough, perhaps it will come true. Your oldest brother does that sometimes, when he disagrees with how reality plays out in his six-year-old life.

I don’t need to use strong words because I’m building a relationship not an argument. We’re building your body from the nutrients that your body accepts more readily from human milk than from any other source. You’re building your immune system, and mine is standing by in the meantime to make sure that you have all the time you need to build it strong. We’re building trust through your trust that I will provide the things that you need for as long as you need them, and through my trust that your needs are just that- needs. I don’t need to use strong words because I have strong reasons that can be spoken in a quiet voice.

Some day you may have a child of your own, and be faced with the same onslaught of comments that many mothers face today if you choose to allow your child to wean on their own timeline, as I choose to allow you to wean on yours.

It will be hard to not feel attacked, as people tend to imply many terrible things about mothers who nurse past a certain arbitrary age that varies from person to person. Six weeks, three months, six months, teeth, talking, walking, one year, two years, certainly never five but after two or maybe just about six months and ten days but never eleven days if they can take a sippy cup even one hour sooner because breastmilk turns into water at some magical point that no one seems to be able to agree upon. It will all be tied up in a magical bow of horrid implications about codependence and abuse that somehow manage to ignore the fact that children are most definitely dependent on their parents on at least some level for at least the first eighteen years of life, and the fact that mammary glands exist to feed infant mammals. If immediate independence was a given for our species we’d hatch independently from eggs laid in a nest long ago abandoned. If we were not meant  to nurse our young, we would not be mammals. We are mammals who give birth to babies that grow into children, and that slowly learn independence and peel off from us as they grow.

Most of these people who have strong opinons on weaning have never seen breastfeeding. Most of these people have never seen a toddler breastfeed. Most of these people have never seen real life with a child weaning on their own schedule. They know nothing of nursing manners, of how solids take over the majority of the child’s diet on a schedule determined by the child’s developmental pace. They know nothing of the inevitable disappearance of the suckling reflex and how it causes children to wean whether they have made the conscious choice to do so or not. There is a timeline for breastfeeding that varies from child to child and from woman to woman and from life to life. There are so many variables that come into play that no one can predict when a particular child will wean until that weaning time comes near. Just as no one can say with absolute certainty when the child will learn to crawl, to walk, cut their first tooth, learn their first word, learn how to jump, or truly understand how to read.

Today as you are eight months old, I find myself answering many questions about your someday-weaning-time. I tell people pretty much what I tell your brother when he is emotionally worked up about something. “If you want to have a conversation we both need to talk and we both need to listen. You’re using a lot of very angry and hurtful words right now, and I’m sorry that you’re upset. If you can please explain to me CALMLY what you’re upset about then maybe we can both learn something new.”

Maybe someday in the course of listening I will learn something new about weaning.

Right now I’ve mostly learned that people have many reasons why they would not want to nurse a child older than a certain age. And I’ve come to understand their reasons. Understanding the reasons that another person does something or believes something doesn’t mean that you have to adopt their reasons as your own.

Remember that.

You do not have to nurse a two year old just because you understand why another woman might choose to do so. You do not have to formula feed your baby just because you understand why another woman might choose to do so. You do not have to do any of the things that I do as a mother just because I chose to do them. You need to understand that their reasons apply so very deeply to their lives, just as your reasons will apply so very deeply to your own.

Your life, your reasons, your information, your preferences, your beliefs, your motherhood…

Is blissfully your own.

So when someone else asks you why and then tries to tell you so many different reasons that simply don’t apply… Don’t fret. Don’t worry. Don’t respond in anger or feel that you need to be defensive. They are talking about themselves and not you. Their feelings and not yours. Their worries and their concerns and their beliefs. You can listen quietly, and when they are done you can try and have your say if they choose to listen.

Some people may not, as they feel that others need to be told exactly what to think and do.

I’ve never thought that about you, even in your infancy our relationship is a give and take. A conversation. And I choose to listen to you when you tell me that you need to nurse, just as I will listen to you when you are ready to wean.

<3 Mama

Discipline in Toddlerhood

I was asked how I address discipline in a toddler/two year old.

I mostly address it with a change in expectations. As in my own expectations. A toddler is more similar to an infant than they are to an older child or an adult. Their physical abilities have grown much faster than their logical skills, even if they’re almost fully verbal and understand quite a bit. They don’t have much in the way of self control but they have an abundance of curiosity and they WANT TO LEARN EVERYTHING. If they were less driven to learn things they’d never learn how to talk or how to walk. Why would they? It would be too frustrating and too painful. As my oldest has taught me with complaints about “it’s tooooo harrrrdddd! I’m toooooo tireeeeddd! Dooo it forrrrr meeeee!”, there’s a LOT of value in that intensely curious driven stage of toddlerhood.

Saying “no” is about as effective as speaking to your English-speaking child in Japanese or some other random foreign language that they don’t understand.

I try to reserve “no” for dangerous activities when the tone of voice is panic rather than annoyance or calm.

“No” to approaching the stove alone. “No” to approaching the street alone. “No” to approaching an unknown dog alone. “No” to approaching railroad tracks.

The thing about toddlers is that humans in general came to exist in a world very different from today. There was no such thing as “please honey don’t break that because it cost a lot of money”. They could explore their environment under supervision and things were generally either okay or Very Dangerous. There were no dangerous objects with an off switch that were sometimes dangerous and sometimes not. A sleeping tiger would be just as dangerous for them to approach. A cliff is always deadly to walk off of. Toddlers are meant to explore intensely unless their parent panics. This is how a toddler learns that something is dangerous.

When we respond to a toddler approaching a stove that is off with a “no! danger!” that is said in a neutral or bossy tone of voice, the toddler is not able to understand that  the stove can sometimes be dangerous. If the first time the toddler approaches the stove there is a pot of boiling water that the child is reaching for, the lesson learned will be VERY different because the tone of voice that we use will be different. It will contain genuine panic. We will run towards our child and snatch them up in our arms and rescue them from the danger that they are approaching.

This is how toddlers learn about danger. Through our reacting to it as a dangerous object or place.

I teach my children that the stove is not a dangerous object to approach WITH AN ADULT by holding them carefully and explaining that something is “hot” and “ouch”. They learn that when mommy or Grandma or Grandpa is holding them it’s not dangerous as long as they don’t touch. When no one is holding them and they walk towards it alone, they learn that is VERY dangerous whether the stove is on or not. They learn this because mommy gets scared. Just as kids learn from their parents to be afraid or not afraid of insects.

As for non-dangerous and non-desirable behaviors such as “wasting” things, “ruining” things, etc. I mostly try to figure out what it is that the child is interested in, and how the child can do something similar or equally engaging/interesting.

I bought a big rubber mallet for my oldest so that he could smash ice cubes outside. A colander with shoelaces or pipe cleaners (twist the ends down so they’re not sharp) fascinated my middle child. I taught my kids how to “bump bump down the stairs” on their bums so that they could climb down the stairs safely, and how to “run up like a kitty” on all fours so that they could go up the stairs more safely since there will not always be baby gates wherever they go. Cheap white rice can be played with outside. Liquids can be experimented with in the bathtub. Vitamins and medicines I’ll open up so that they can see/smell and then I’ll make a wrinkly face and say “eww. Yucky. Foo.” the way I do when they taste the soap in the bathtub and don’t like the taste. I encourage them to “ask first” if they want candy or juice, and I try to not keep those items in the house unless I am willing to let them eat them or “taste” them when they ask.

Understanding that kids will be in a new environment and needing to explore when they go over a friend’s house helps me set up appropriate expectations. At home they’re in their comfort zone and know what things are “dangerous” or “boring”. They’ve explored the contraband safely with me. Suddenly they’re in a new environment with rooms to run through, colorful things to touch, objects to spill out and look at. I try to figure out if there is a child-safe room that they can be in, and I try to identify the things that can easily be ruined. If possible I try to bring something new for them into the new environment. If I just bring a bag of toys that they already know well they’re not even going to notice those toys. Instead I try to pull toys out from the box of toys that I cycled out a month or two ago, or I’ll bring something that they’re not usually allowed to play with. I’ll try to keep the time manageable rather than expecting a nice leisurely four hour visit. When I find myself wanting/needing to step in too often it’s time to get going and bring my child back to their comfort zone.