All posts by sarah

Sleeping With Knives: Cosleeping and Sensationalism

​I have grown weary of some of the sensationalism surrounding cosleeping. It is nothing like allowing a child to ride in a car without a carseat. And even less like letting a baby sleep with a knife. 

“You have a crib?”

“I do. With a nice firm mattress.” I don’t bother to add that I have removed one side, raised the mattress and bunjee-corded it to our king sized bed to make a nice big space for diaper changes, napping cats and my water bottle. 

She even sleeps there for short periods of time at the start of some nights when I want to curl up with my head tucked onto my partner’s shoulder for a little while. (I make sure it is empty of napping cats and other things first.)

Wren sleeps next to me. 

She always has. 

In the deepest part of our sleep cycles neither of us moves. Then as she rouses from sleep her little movements rouse me. Before she even makes a fussy sneezing sound to call for me, she has latched on and is nursing back to sleep. 

When she is done I reach between us and take her little hand, pulling it up a bit and rolling her onto her back again. In the dark her little lips quiver in her sleep. I fall asleep kissing her little head.

My arm is stretched out above her head, below my pillow. and my other arm lays across my blanket, curling under her feet.  Or my leg curls under her feet. My blanket is tucked between my legs so that the edge can’t move above her waist and she can’t migrate underneath it. 

My bed is not empty of things. But they cannot move without me knowing. She cannot move without me knowing. I cannot move without me knowing. 

Once in an episode of 3AM insomnia I read an article about overlaying and rolling over onto babies. I spent an hour trying to figure out how to roll over on or into my sleeping baby without dislocating my shoulder in the process. I already knew it to be impossible, but I re-evaluated  Every time I moved, she startled a bit. Her hands started to fly and crashed into me. or her fingers twitched against me.  Too many tiny startles woke her up and she started rooting to nurse. 

I do not think bedsharing is safe for everyone. 

I do not believe that it is dangerous for everyone.

I do believe it is safe for us. 

And for many other families as well. 

I have never shied away from reading about the dangers of bedsharing. Understanding things like overheating and rebreathing are important. Knowing about overlaying as well as rolling is important. Knowing about air circulation is important. Understanding how a baby can become entrapped between a mattress and headboard, against a crib bumper, or even between a bedframe and the rail of a sidecarred crib. Important. 

These are important discussions that we don’t have because cosleeping is currently being treated in a disproportionately sensational way.

Imagine if we were told flat out that we should never bring our infant in the car. Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for children under 13. 

Instead we talk about how to keep children safer in cars. Instead we talk about the types of scenarios where people should not drive, and why it increases the danger of driving.

What if that were the type of discussion we had around cosleeping?

Parents are cosleeping anyway. The lack of discussion about safety is leading to cosleeping practices and devices that decrease rather than enhance safety.

That’s Not Fair!

We are packing for a road trip.

Alexander has taken it upon himself to pack some car snacks.

He comes up to me after putting snacks in everyone’s bag. “Mommy, there are two extras.”

I am counting out diapers into the diaper bag. I do not think before answering.

“You can just put that in your bag, since you packed the snacks.” (Fair enough, I guess?)

“I think Isaac should have it.” he says. “He is bigger and eats more.”

“Does that seem fair?” I ask. It is my go-to question. We discuss fairness often, I am the one who brings it up. He understands that I am asking him if he is considering himself as well as his brother. 

He smiles. He says yes. I ask him if he wants to check with Keenie and see if she thinks it is fair, too. She is enthusiastic and on board. “Isaac eats more!” She agrees.

I see a lot of posts about how to stop the whining about fairness. 

My kids bring up fairness with me and my partner maybe a few times a year at most. 

I answer it with a question. “What do you feel would be fair to everyone?” 

Fairness isn’t making a single person happy. That is “I would like” and “can I please?” Fairness is a discussion where everyone’s needs are weighed and considered. Fair is not necessarily equal. It would not be fair for Keenie and I to have the exact same amount of food on our plates. She eats like a bird, I eat like a bulldozer. She needs less food. I need more. It would not be fair for me to insist that I get to use the toilet because I got there first, if one of my children is doing the potty dance.

Life? Life is not fair. Life is a combination of many things.  But family is not a “too bad,so sad, sucks to be you” Thing unless we choose to treat it that way.

If I am asking one of my children to accept something unfair, I tell them. I ask them.  I say “I know that what I am asking is not fair to you. I am asking you if you can please help me by doing XYZ this once. Next time I promise we will do QRS instead. Is that okay?” And I thank them genuinely. 

I make space for myself, as well. I calmly say “I need to be fair to myself, too. And when things are unfair to me, I start the same discussion. 

It takes different forms, but the gist of it is that “I do more because I am older and faster and you are my children and I want to make sure you have all the space you need to play. 

Right now I am trying to get ready so we can all go. I need your help. It is not fair to ask me to do every single thing that needs to be done before we can leave. What can you help with?”

This is not a thing I am perfect with. It is an evolving mindset. I have had no examples for this. I have plucked it out of the moments when I have felt like every bit of me wanted to shriek “THIS IS NOT FAIR!!!!”

What gets me to that point?
What has brought my child there?
How can I help my child feel respected?
Giving them whatever they want is not respect.
Neither is refusing on principle.

It needs to be a conversation.

And I need to be the calm one.

Otherwise what my child is yelling is true.

It isn’t fair.

How to Talk to Babies Like No One is Watching

I am talking to my 5.5mo baby as she is playing with a toy.

And I begin naming the things that are on it.

And I name the lady beetle.

Intentionally not using the term “bug”.
Because lady beetles are not true bugs.

Then I explain this in a perfectly serious voice.

To my 5.5mo baby.

And suddenly I flash back to my first child at that age.

And how I used to wonder what I should talk to him about.

Everything. Talk to your baby about everything.

Describe things as verdant green.
Fingers and toes as pudgy digits that each have names.
Talk like a book.
Talk like yourself.
Explain things the way you would to a two year old.
A nine year old.
An adult.
Laugh.
Quote movies.
Talk about the marvelous things your baby is learning.
And about all the things they will do when they are bigger.
Name colors.
Talk about the potty and poop and pee and how their body will tell them they need to do certain things.
Run your finger inside their little chompy chewy mouth. Trace the gums. Name what teeth will come in where.
Or confess that you never learned their names, but that you should learn them so that you can teach them later.

Sit in silence and stare at their face with the same wonder they are staring at yours.

Say their name in hushed awed tones. Spell it out. Introduce yourself.

And tell them how ridiculously happy you are to have them here with you.

Then be quiet, too. Carry them in your arms and wander through your life in silence as they look at things.

And let them speak. In high pitched squeals and squeaks and babbles.

They are telling you how ridiculously happy they are to be here. With you. In your arms.

And When You Come Home to a Messy House, What Will You See?

Isaac is watching me as I clean.
I have just put the bedtime snack on the table.

And rounded up my giggling children. 

“Mommy, come eat with us!” He says. I am swishing water on plates with one hand while holding a cooing Wren on my hip with the other hand. She is attempting to hang upside down to grab the water as it runs. 

“I can’t right now, sweetie.” I say. “I have to clean up.”

A moment later I shut off the water.  I go over to the table. I sit down. 

“Isaac?” I say. “Can I ask you a question?”

He looks up. 

“Do you think you will want to have kids someday? A family?” 

He says he does. 

“If you are working and your partner is at home with the kids… when you come home, if the house is messy what will you think?”

“That she was taking care of the kids all day and playing with them.”

“There is something I want you to try and remember, okay?” I am looking at him in the eyes. “It is very very important.”

He is listening. 

“Do you see the dishes still in the sink?” He looks. 

“Do you see the bits of coffee grounds that spilled earlier and that I missed when I cleaned them up?” He looks. 

“And the unfolded laundry in the library?” He nods. 

“You can see all the things I haven’t done, right?” I ask. “Can you see what I *have* done?”

He says he can. 

“How?”

He saw me do three other loads of laundry. Feed the animals. Cook three meals. Wash the pans for two of those meals. He saw me clean up after them all day. Put things away. He saw me focus their new microscope on the smear of blood I coaxed from my pricked fingertip onto a slide. He saw me round up the library books. Breastfeed and bounce the baby, change countless diapers. Help them all settle disagreements.  Work on Alexander’s reading and on everyone’s math. He asked me for help getting things, and I said “of course” over and over again. 

“But if you did not see what I did, and you just came home to see everything I haven’t managed to do.. would you think I did nothing all day?”

He shakes his head.

“Some people do think that way.” I tell him. “They see what still needs to be done, and they get upset.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know, sweetie.” I say. “But it is VERY VERY IMPORTANT that if you ever have a partner you don’t think that way.”

“I won’t.” He promises. “I will do what daddy does.”

“What does daddy do?” I smile. 

“He comes home and he helps you clean and brings you food so you can sit down”

My heart swells fit to burst.

“Yes. Daddy does that.” I smile. “He loves me very much, and knows how hard I work every day.”

I pause. 

“And that is why, every night before he comes home I try to clean up as much as I can. Because I love him very much and I know how hard he works every day even though I am not there to see it.”

That is what family is.

A bunch of imperfect people trying to find their balance on this crazy spinning sphere of a planet. 

This is love. 

And love is good. 

Gentle!


Wren is on the swings. 

I am pushing gently.  

A little girl comes over and wants to push her too. 

“Gently” I say. And she pushes her gently, slowly building up momentum until it approaches being too fast. 

I could repeat the word “gently”, have her figure it out. Or dive in and stop the swing,assuming she is ignoring my words. 

Instead I smile and add more words to paint a better picture of what “gentle” means right now. 

“A little slower, okay? She is littler than her friend in the other swing. Her neck is not as strong, if you push her too quickly she won’t be able to hold her head up.”

She’s looking at me. “Can I show you?” I ask. I push gently. “See?” 

The little girl pushes so gently the swing slows almost to a stop. I chuckle with a smile.”that is very gentle. She can go a little faster than that.”

She tries again, this time at the perfect speed. 

“You are very good with babies.” I say. 

She smiles a huge smile. 

Often when the word “gentle” is not immediately understood, we jump in quickly. If the baby is going to be hurt, jumping in is good. But often we can pause the older child’s actions with more words and paint a better picture of what we expect.

Or we can redirect to a different positive interaction. 

The gentle that we are with a horse is different from the gentle we are with daddy. The gentle we are with daddy is different from the gentle we are with mommy when she is pregnant. There is the gentleness we show great grandma who is sick. The gentleness we show a bunny. Another child our size. The gentleness we show a newborn, a six month old,a one year old, a five year old. There is the gentleness we show a butterfly or a tiny little inchworm.

I like to use more words to help people guess well. 

The Earliest Forms of Consent and Communication (Part 1)

She stirs.
Stretches.
Smiles.
Blows bubbles.
I smile, too.
And tell her good morning.
“Hello.”
“You are awake!”
Then I ask her a question.
It has always been a silly question.
“Can I pick you up?”
I started asking her this at the hospital when she was just born.
I hold out my hands and pause before I pick her up.
In the space of that pause, today?
At five and a half months old?
She rolled away from me to grab at her little stuffed dog.
And then she rolled back to me.
Ready to be picked up.
“Wait a second, mommy. Let me get this first.”

I’d Like to Live in a World Like This

A volunteer blackberry plant in the weedy remnants of last summer’s garden. 

I am looking at the little blackberry with my four year old daughter when a little skipper lands. 

She squeals in happiness, her hands fly up to her face and she goes breathless. 

Disconnect makes life ugly. I can stand off and stare at the unkempt and awful weedy place where my garden used to grow.

Or I can creep closer, crouch low. I can look for the beautiful things that my life is full of. 

“I’d like to live in a world like this.” I think. 

The sun to our backs. Frozen in a moment, my two daughters and I. 

I’d like to live in a world like this.  The world I live in with these kids of mine. 

They remind me that it is full of small and simple things.

Full of beauty and wonder. 

Why Does My Child “Conveniently” Get Hurt When I’m Asking Them to Do Something?

My child is playing downstairs.
I need them to put pants on so that we can go to a doctor’s appointment.
I ask them.
I ask again.
They ignore me.
Finally I get their attention.

And they immediately stub a toe.
Or fall down.
Or bump their head.
Or suffer some other catastrophe.

And it feels like a delay tactic.

I’m driving.
Another adult is in the passenger seat.
They try to tell me to make a turn that I’m not prepared to make.
I miss the turn because it is not safe for me to make it by the time they tell me to.
What would happen?
I might crash.

My child is not conveniently injuring themselves to avoid listening.
My child is involved in a task.
Maybe not the task that I want them to be involved in.
Maybe not a task that I assigned to them.
But they are involved in a task.
It has their attention.

I am asking them to make a turn that they are not prepared to make.
And sometimes I am demanding that they make it RIGHT NOW.

Parenting for the Short Term and Long Term Goals

Sometimes I parent for the short-term goal. I have a doctors appointment. We are running late. We have to go. Now.

Other times I parent for the long term goal. I am taking the kids to the playground. There’s no rush to get out of the house. We can spend two hours learning about all the different steps along the way. About cooperation. About getting our clothes ready. About what happens when we leave later in the day vs leaving earlier in the day.

I’m not parenting for short term compliance. I don’t want to be able to say “SIT!” and have my children sit.

I am parenting for cooperation, not compliance. For compassion, not for dominance. For a natural understanding of the laws and rules, not a fear of the punishments or penalties.

Often what a child learns from an experience is more important than them doing EXACTLY AS I SAY RIGHT NOW.

I find it painful to parent in tandem with people who follow an authoritarian approach because inevitably they interrupt with a punishment or a command.

The WHY is usually more important to me than the HOW.

Why do we get ready? So we can leave. Why do we leave? So we can go someplace. Why do we need to cooperate when we are getting ready to go? Because when we cooperate we are able to leave more quickly. Why do we want to leave more quickly? So that we have more fun doing the fun thing and less time lingering between places looking for our socks. Where are our socks? In our rooms. Can we find our socks? Why can’t we find our socks. Oh. Right. Why do we pair our socks and put them away? So we can find them when we want to leave so we can get ready quickly so we spend more time doing something fun and less time looking for our socks.

When we snap commands we keep all that stuff in our own adult heads and just command our kids to jump.

Honestly it’s really freaking hard for me to slow down and explain everything. It takes a lot of thinking and a lot of practice to remember why we do something. “Because I said so” is a really terrible reason when you’re speaking to a young child who sees everything as completely arbitrary.

But I slow down.

I remember the reasons.

I take the time to teach when I have the time to teach.

So that my children will understand that I always ask them things based on reasons.

So that when I say “I do not have time to explain right now, can you please do it and I promise I will explain later?” they trust me and listen to me and jump a lot faster than they do when a command is used.

What happens when a child is used to being commanded all the time? Honestly they understand nothing. They make a ton of mistakes. They have to guess how to do the things that the adult expects them to JUST DO. They learn to play guessing games where they guess, are wrong, are snapped at, guess again, are wrong, are snapped at, etc.

How do I know this?

Because adults ask my kids to do things ALL THE TIME.

Things that they then turn around and ask me how to do.

And I teach them.

Repeatedly.

While they strive to master things that an adult already decided was “common sense”.

Look. Common sense is LEARNED. It’s not innate. Kids learn common sense by learning the reasons behind things. By guessing at them. By having them discussed and confirmed.

So if you want a child to know something? Teach it. Repeatedly. Over and over and over. Patiently. Step by step. And if they don’t understand a step, figure out how to teach them that step.

If you have a hard time remembering how to do this, teach them to ASK YOU. Teach them to say “Mommy, I do not know how to do that yet. Can you please show me how?” and when they say that, even if you’ve shown them a million times, show them again.

Life takes a lot of practice. Think about the things you learn as an adult. How many times you have to practice something to get it right. Think about the first time you learned how to operate a combination lock or drive a car.

None of that was “I will tell you once and then punish you every time you make a mistake”.

Behavior is learning. Not a series of personality flaws you have to punish a child out of, and not a series of commands that a child should just jump to follow.

They are people.

They deserve the chance to understand and agree with the why.

If you disagree, that’s fine. You can do what you want with your children.

But.

Do. Not. Interrupt. Me. When. I. Am. Explaining. Things. To. Try. To. Get. My. Kids. To. Listen. To. My. Request. Faster. Than. They. Are.

Please. Just let me do what I am doing. Don’t jump in. I don’t need backup.

I am more than capable of demanding immediate compliance if I need to. If I haven’t, it is INTENTIONAL. For a reason. Don’t interrupt me without asking me first if it is okay.

See? I explain first. Then I ask. Then once I’ve explained I expect you to remember that I have explained it. But if you forget I will repeat myself. Unfortunately if you interrupt me in front of the children I will repeat myself in front of the children. Please don’t create a situation where we are both undermining each others authority.

I won’t punish you for forgetting, though. Even if you do sometimes insist that punishments are necessary.

Natural Consequences Made Punitive vs Natural Consequences and Repair

“Isaac, can you come down for breakfast?”

He ignores me. I let him.

I go make breakfast. I put it on his plate.

I trudge back up the stairs.

“Isaac, your food is on the table. It is time to eat.”

He ignores me. I let him.

One of the things we often hear is that kids become accustomed to nagging and repetition followed by force and demands.

Whenever Isaac spends time with people who follow that pattern, whenever I am “backed up” by a well meaning adult, or whenever life follows a curve that puts me in the position of nagging.. we come back to this place.

Everything talks about how we should not let ourselves get to this point.

But what about when we do? Or when others bring our children to that point for us?

I back off.

I made breakfast.
I put it on the table.
He can eat when he is hungry.

Eventually he wanders downstairs. 

He finds that someone else has eaten most of his berries.

Taken bites out of his toast.

By that point the baby is awake and nursing again.

He comes and finds me. Furious and upset. And tells me that someone took a single bite out of each of the squares of toast on his plate.

I can’t help it. I burst into laughter. Not at his upset. I am not laughing at him. I was listening very respectfully until that point. Not trying to dismiss his anger. Not being upset by it.

But the toast has me rolling with the uncontrollable giggles.

He snaps out of his anger and upset. Stares at me speechlessly.

It’s a sunny spring morning.
The ceiling fan is spinning.
The baby has popped off my boob and is smiling at me.
And my poor sweet nine year old is indignant about some unknown gremlin who has been nibbling at his toast.

I can say “sucks to be you” and say that is the consequence of leaving his food at the table. It is the consequence. Yes.

But the truth is, we have been getting along poorly lately and it’s time for us all to do some repair. It won’t help the kids get along better if I stomp my foot and try to drive home this natural consequence as a hard firm line.

Truth is, as parents we sometimes try and make natural consequences more punitive than they are to teach a lesson.

When I finish laughing I apologize for my speechlessness. And I say “Isaac, when you leave food on the table it’s risky. We live in a house with four little gremlins and a dog who loves table food.”

He’s laughing too, and says it isn’t just the kids that are gremlins, that the grownups are too.

And it’s true. We clean off the table and eat the leftovers. 

“Look. Isaac, we’ve been getting along poorly lately. I want us all to start being nicer to each other again. I’m going to start by making you more food. Can you try to be nicer across the day, too?”

He says he will.

“There are still consequences. I am not sure what berries we have left. And we are out of peanut butter. And you’ll need to wait until the baby is done nursing. And if she starts crying I’ll have to pick her up. So it will take longer. I have a lot to do today, but I want to help you deal with the consequences, okay?”

He is happy. And he starts rattling off what he can do to help. He’ll hold the baby.

I agree that would be helpful.

“And Isaac, tomorrow can you come down when I ask you to, so I won’t have to make two breakfasts?”

He nods sheepishly.

When he and I have a good strong relationship he doesn’t want to make more work for me. He doesn’t want to ignore me when I ask him something.  He seeks me out, helps out, is engaged in the things that I am doing.

It’s softer. But it gives more results.

Relationships aren’t rigid. They are compassionate. Going in both directions.