Dear Santa,
I have done all my chores this year.  I have been mostly good.  If you think that is good, please bring me a DS.  I will leave a treat for you.
Love,
Aaron

If I could, I would take pencil to paper and draw the sight of the houses lined up like soldiers at watch along the cliffs in all their salt-water taffy colored glory. I’d color in the fourteen, fifteen, maybe even twenty different shades of blue between sea and sky, only to run out of options when it came time to add the greens on the hills and in the hedges and in all the little nooks and crannies that only greens can grow. I’d sketch the birds in flight along the coastline, the sandy beaches running right up to rocky ridges and back again, dipping here and there as the waves softly etch away the lines and wrinkles of children’s footprints and sandcastles and leave behind a peppering of sun-bleached seashells and round, smooth stones. Somewhere along the coastline I’d run out of paper and realize that no amount of shading could begin to convey the fullness of life that billows forth from the father laughing at the surprise of the son who was so wrapped up in the antics of the dog nipping at the waves that he himself got caught up in the frothy foam. Shades of grey and pink and yellow and brown can’t capture the warmth of sunkissed sand or the tickle of the breeze on a bare shoulder.

If I could, I’d bottle up the tantalizing smell of a bonfire on the beach, crackling with the aroma of sausages roasted to near-bursting. Add in a hint of the sea-salt laden air, mixed thoroughly with the scent of the breeze and happiness and sunshine and the panic of the last minutes of summer slipping through the fingers of the holiday-makers. Popcorn and cotton candy and the dark, heavy scent of tired bodies lacquered with sunscreen and booze and cigarettes. The smell of the sun going down. I’d scoop it all up and pour it in a jar and realize as I labeled it that there simply was too much left out to truly encapsulate something as dense, as complex, as a single moment in time.

If I could, I’d record the sounds of tired children whining and their mothers breaking under the strain of many too many sugared highs collapsing all at once as they try to get their offspring and vacationing paraphernalia loaded back into the family car where it doesn’t seem to fit as neatly or as nicely or at all like it did when carefully loaded not even a week ago. I’d mix those with the sounds of flip-flops on the boardwalk and the scuffle of one more game of soccer in the sand; with the slurping sound signaling the end a milkshake and the whispers of young lovers strolling hand-in-hand, hip-to-hip down the strand in search of some small, still, secret place to call their own. Lay it all over the reverberating whoosh, whoosh, whoosh of the tide coming in and falling back as it has since the beginning of time. But as I went to play it back I’d realize that I’d left out “Sweet Caroline” sung with a Welsh lilt and and the strum of a guitar for accompaniment and at least a million other necessary sounds, rendering the entire piece flat and useless.

What’s that old song? Something about taking a feeling and bottling it up and making a million? If I could, that’s what I’d do. And then I’d spend the million on R&D to figure out a way to translate life into characters on a page so that I could share the honeymoon bloom of seeing and feeling and exploring a place for the first time.


Tomorrow is our last full day in the US. I keep running that idea around in my head, trying to figure out how it feels. I had such good intentions this morning-- get the laundry done, pack everything we don't need for the next day and a half, put the boy down for a nap, haul out the laptop, and let my fingers sort it all out. Put into print everything we've been doing so that I could neatly separate the activity from the feelings and figure out an honest answer for all the incredulous faces.

It was 10am before I gave up on finding quarters in our luggage and headed down to the lobby for change. It was another half hour before we shuffled our bags of clothes into the laundry room only to discover that I had two boxes of softener and a box of dryer sheets but no detergent. Soft and fragrant does not equal clean in my book and so it was back to the room (drop off the dirties), back to the lobby (trade softener for detergent), back to the room (pick up the dirties), back to the laundry room (sort the clothes, fill the tub, realize the time, shove the carefully sorted piles all into the same washer), and then back to the room for lunch. Put the boy down for a nap, back to the laundry room (oops, forgot the dryer sheets), back to the room, put the boy back down for a nap, back to the laundry room ($#!t, lost a quarter), back to the room, put the boy back down for a nap, return to laundry (guess what? the dryer starts without quarters!), back to the room, put the boy back down for a nap, wash the dishes, argue with the boy about why a nap is important, pack up some un-necessities, back to the laundry room, fold the dry stuff, throw the dampies back in (so that's where that quarter went to!), back to the room, give up on the nap, pack the folded clothes, race with the boy down the hall to the laundry room, fold the rest of the (basically) dry clothes, race back to the room, fix a snack, pack, quick trip to the lobby for a change of scene, answer my cell phone and discover hey! it's 5:00 and Josh is in the room trying to figure out where the hell we are and what do we want to do for dinner?

It's 10:58 pm, CST. Tomorrow is our last full day in the US. I keep running that idea around in my head, trying to figure out how it feels.

mantra

Total meltdown at school today.

I walked in the door right in the middle of it.  He had, quite literally, run over another kid out on the playground while in a hurry to find someone else and then refused to stop when called out for his behavior by the teacher.

Just kept going.

When the teacher took steps to intervene, to get him to stop, to take control, he lost it.  Hitting, kicking, screaming, biting, pinching --  he unleashed his entire arsenal in an attempt to not be controlled.  She was carrying him in the door to separate him from the other children when I walked in.  He ran to hide behind me, protesting that he was the injured party, hurt during the struggle to remove him from the playspace.  I checked him out, hoping that addressing his concerns would give us a much needed break in the drama so that he would calm down enough for us to do some problem solving together.  No red marks, no scratches, indication of any kind that he had been handled roughly.  Not that I had entertained that idea with any kind of seriousness -- a more loving, patient, understanding, compassionate staff/setting would be hard to find!  Sometimes he just needs that acknowledgement from me.  Those little gestures go a long ways towards reminding him that I will always take care of him first, that I will always love him the most, no matter who did what to whom.

I'm sure the wall of disapproval, the flush of embarrassment in my face, the hardened stance of folded arms that he turned into fanned the flames of his indignation.  I've been working on that -- worrying less about what everyone else might think and focusing instead on the situation at hand, but I'm horrible at it.  I hate being the center of negative attention.  I physically cringe at the idea of confrontation or at not being well thought of.  Oddly enough, the less I know a person, the more concerned I am about their opinion of me.  It's screwy, I know.  It's part of the reason I've been in therapy for the past three years.  But back to Aaron.  My words said everything that they were supposed to: Let me take care of you and then let's talk about what happened.  Let's see if we can solve this problem together.

My body language told quite a different story.

My little analytical, logical boy.  Not entirely unemotional, but unempathetic if that is even a word.  Detached.  Observant but somewhat dispassionate in the realm of social interactions.  How hard we've worked at learning to read the emotions of others based on  body language and the tone of their voice!  To watch for cues, to interpret facial expressions.  He's been a diligent student and, no doubt, he understood exactly what I was telling him.

I am not happy with you.  You are causing me discomfort.  You are embarrassing me.

My words said:  Your behavior is unacceptable.

My body said:  You are unacceptable.

And so the drama escalated.  Now he has two people trying to control him.  Now he's fighting twice as hard.

I know better than to add physical restraint to the mix.  I know that he's far stronger when he's angry than I could ever control.  He's three-quarters my height and three times as determined.  And yet?  Grabbing him, holding him, well, it shows others that I am doing something.  That I am not just letting him get away with it, passive push-over mother.  So we go into lockdown position -- him in my lap, arms crossed across his chest, my legs wrapped over his, holding him tight to my chest.  A human straight-jacket.  It's the position they taught us when I went through the training to work as an assistant teacher in the "Special Day" class.  The week before school started, I was moved into a second grade position, so those skills got little use.  "Safe restraint" I think they called it, though I often wonder when we're locked into each other on the floor just what kind of safety it is providing.  Still, no one can get hit or bit or kicked or pinched.  Occasionally he catches me off guard and throws his head backwards into my chin/cheek/chest, knocking the air and hubris out of me.

But I know it's not working.  We could sit like that all day and it still wouldn't work.  He's not going to calm down until he regains control and it's up to me to figure out how to relinquish just enough control to let him calm down without putting the responsibility of control totally on his shoulders.  Our little dance -- two step towards independence, one step back towards security.  Sometimes an unexpected spin sends us reeling, losing our footing on this already treacherous dance floor.

Let me go! he screams at me.  I'm letting you go, I agree, loosening my grip on his wrists, guiding his writhing body onto the floor beside me where he sits, kneeling, panting, one small hand searching its way into mine.  We sit like this for a moment, regaining our bearings, searching for the next compass heading.  We need to talk.

I have a headache, he sobs.  Yes, I'm sure you do.  It always makes my head hurt when I  lose control like that, I respond.  I need ice, he determines.  A teacher brings him an ice pack wrapped in a cool cloth to hold onto his sweat-soaked head.  She's been watching this entire interaction.  It takes all of my energy in that moment to push this thought aside and focus on my little boy.

Let's talk about what just happened, I say.


I can't think when I have a headache! He is still raging, though it's coming in waves now.

I know, I tell him.  So just listen for a minute and tell me if I have it figured out.  Here's what I think happened.  You were in a hurry.  You knocked somebody over and didn't go back to check on them.  The teacher saw that and you were embarrassed that she caught you. 

I had too much momentum!  I couldn't stop until I got to the bottom!  I said "sorry" really quick and quiet and he didn't even hear me!  And now it's too late and he's not ever going to listen!

I have a friend who sometimes teases me "...and then we'll all be homeless and have to live under a bridge!"  when I start getting all caught up in a crisis avalanche.  You know the old "if this doesn't happen, then that can't happen and then we won't be able to do this and then (she cuts in) we'll all be homeless and have to live under a bridge!"  Yet another trait it seems I've passed on genetically or by example.

So let's see if we can come up with a solution, I cut in before the avalanche can cut loose.  First, I say, we need to go check on H__.  We need to tell him how sorry you are for knocking him down and we need to find out if there is anything you can do to make him feel better.  Then we need to go find Miss T__.  We need to tell her how sorry you are for being fighting with her and we need to tell her that you will try to be more respectful next time.

But I don't want to go apologize!  I don't want everybody to look at me and to listen to me!

I know.  I know, but that's just something we need to do.  That's just part of growing up.  We have to take responsibility for the things we do and we have to make sure that the people around us are okay.  I'll be right there with you.  I'll help you with the words.  But you have to do this.  It's one of the consequences that comes along with the choices you made.  I stop, knowing I am talking too much, when what I really want to do is just keep talking talking talking talking talking until he finally internalizes my words and begins to bleed them back at me.

We walk out the door to find H__ but he sees someone or someone sees him or someone is in the general vicinity of his embarrassment and he is now attached to my leg and no amount of finding a quiet space where no one else is but him and H__ and me will do.  I see it and yet I continue.  He WILL make an apology.  He WILL be sorry and everyone else, all these little 3 and 4 and 5 year olds will see what a good mommy I am and how well I control his behavior.  So now we're sitting on a bench -- H__, me, Aaron.  H__ looks up at me, totally confused, as unsure of what is happening now as he is of what started it in the first place.  Aaron is burying his head in my leg, refusing to direct his words at H__, defying my attempts at patience and understanding, and, quite frankly, sucking the last of my willingness dry.

Eventually I give him the ultimatum:  I will count to three and you will either do as I say or there will be consequences and repercussions!  I thunder.  No lunch at the restaurant! No park after nap!  No ipad-touch-pod!  No TV!

Three comes and goes and so I turn to H__ and tell him that I am sorry that he was hurt, that I hope that Aaron will be more careful the next time and is there anything else Aaron can do to make him feel better?  He can say he's sorry, he says, leaving me back at square one with no recourse and so I stumble out an "Aaron is sorry" and send him on his way to rejoin the rest of the children.

On our way out the door Aaron wants to know if he will get to go to the park, the teacher wants to pull me aside to tell me that I did a good job of handling the situation, and I just want to find a deep dark closet to crawl further and further into until I am in Narnia and the only thing I have to face is the decision between Aslan and peaceful silence of perpetual winter.

At home I give him lunch in his room.  PBJ, carrots, apricot slices and a lecture about the importance of treating people with respect which he dutifully parrots back to me and then launches into one ridiculous scenario after another in which he is taking care of people and righting the wrongs of bad guys with pseudo-karate kicks and loud "hiyah!"s and I am wondering if I am just wasting my breath.  Maybe empathy can't be learned.

I can't give up on it, though.  I won't succumb to the simplistic notion that boys will be boys and it is harmful to hamper their testosterone driven instincts by insisting that they not immediately begin smashing the little creepie-crawlies on the bottom of the just-turned-over rock.  I won't capitulate to the masses that tell me that might=right and the mightier you are because of your guns or your muscles or your money or your education or your religion, the rightier you are and anyone who is foolish enough to get in your way has it coming to them.  I won't teach him through inaction that the past is always right and traditions are always good and that differences are meant to be disdained.

And so now I am headed upstairs to have him dictate letters of apology from his bedroom where he will spend the rest of the day, ostensibly to think about his behavior, but more likely to read through his bedroom library and play around with the settings on his alarm clock.  Tomorrow morning we will start anew.  Tomorrow morning we will start with "There is nothing more important than treating people kindly" and will repeat it the day after that and the day after that and the day after that until it becomes a part of who he is or my tongue falls out of my head.  

looky, looky!


Here's what I did today:

Everything Must Go!


And, just think, if you're lucky enough to be local, some of it could come to YOUR house!  I'll even bring it over for you!  Maybe even if you don't exactly ask for it!  Fa-la-la-la-la-ding-dong, it's the furniture fairy and everybody wins!

how i began my summer vacation

So remember three weeks ago when I was all like "Hey!  I'm really excited about something but I can't tell anybody anything about it, but woo-hoo!  Homeward Bound!"?  And then two weeks ago on Facebook when I was all like "Hey! We're moving to Delaware!"?

And then it was Tuesday, May 31st and Josh came home from work and was all like "Hey!  What if we didn't move to Delaware and I didn't quit my job with the company that I've been with for the past 14 years and we didn't lose any of our pension or vacation time?"  And I was all like "sad-face".  And then he was all like "But what if we were to still move?"  And I was all like "intrigued-but-not-back-to-Texas-face".  And then he was all like "What if we were to move even farther east?" And I was all like "wait a minute, my brain is trying to figure out how to go farther east and not fall off into the ocean unless -oh, my beating heart!- do you mean what I think you mean?"  And he was all like "Yes, ma'am, I think I do!" And I was all like "Hang on, I'm gonna have to sit down now." And we were super excited for a minute or two until we realized that, in fact, he had already tendered his resignation and verbally accepted the offer of employment from a new company in Delaware and that this new option would require some serious backtracking and I had already announced to the world that we were moving back east and we had done the dance of joy and started looking at schools and townhouses and restaurants, oh! my!  And then we decided that the more reasonable course of action was to just go ahead with the move to Delaware and that would be that.

Except then it was two days later and we were both still thinking about this new option and he was having a really hard time actually putting pen to paper to sign the new contract.  So we sat down and had a little talk that went something like "We're young, Aaron's young, and are we ever going to get a chance like this again?  Possibly, but if not, then we'd be fools to have passed it up the first time around, so if it's still an option, then we just need to stop thinking about it and just do it."  So the very next morning he put in a call or two or seven and made it known that we were very much interested in the latest option and what would it take to put us in a new location today?  And the answer came back that it would take very little persuasion for the powers-that-be to reconsider what they had already considered just two days before, but it was going to require a certain amount of not talking about it until all the other pieces of the puzzle had been sorted out and would we be okay with just taking their word for it?  To which Josh was a bit "erm-tugs-collar-erm, I will have just quit two jobs in the space of a week and in the end not have a signed contract for a job at all" but decided the risk was well worth the potential gain, so he virtually shook hands on it or whatever it is that boys do when they strike a verbal agreement over the phone and that was Friday the 3rd of June.

What followed was a week of silence where the word "silence" is synonymous with "hey wait a minute, did I just pull out another handful of hair?" and "texting Josh fifteen times per hour to see if they had release the information so I could just talk about it already?"  I hadn't and they didn't, but there was enough forward movement that it became clear it was time to start ridding ourselves of our worldly possessions and I entered into a turid menage a trois with Craigslist and Goodwill.  By the end of the week I had gotten rid of our patio furniture, a composter, a stroller, an area rug, two boxes of baby/toddler toys, four garbage bags full of clothes, and promised our treadmill, two end-tables, a desk, a chair, a bench, a lamp, a bookcase, and Aaron's kitchen play area to interested parties.  Sadly, the $250 I made did little towards filling the empty void of not being able to talk about it with anyone.  It did make my butt look good, though.  You win some, you lose some.

This weekend we began to knock off the "we should probably see this since we missed it the last time we were living in the Bay Area and have been saying we should go check it out since we got back here in 2007" list.  Mt. Diablo made for a beautiful hike and some lovely pictures.  And, the lack of cell phone service made it easier to pass yet another day without spilling the beans.

Yesterday, at 1:57, I received the following text:

FYI, may have an announcement as early as this afternoon or tomorrow.

Alas, the afternoon passed with no such announcement and it wasn't until we were sitting down to dinner tonight that Josh casually mentioned that the veil of silence had been lifted at which point I stabbed him through the heart for not telling me earlier and now we can't move because he is dead.  Not really, but I might have briefly considered punching him in the face.

And now it is now and I am pleased to announce that we are moving to Wales and will be spending the next 3 or so years learning to drive on the other side of the road, learning to add the letter "u" indiscriminately to words, and trying to remember that we are the weird ones. Aaron will be learning Welsh along with English, Josh will be doing whatever the heck it is that Josh is supposed to be doing over there, and my first order of business is to see how many of the 641 castles in the country I can visit.  My full time job is going to be documenting this journey and I'd love to have you all along for the ride!

waiting

There is a smile on my face tonight and my heart occasionally stops its steady rhythm to flutter emphatically. There is no certainty to the thoughts racing to my head, but they are relentless nonetheless. And although I can say no more here or there or anywhere, at least not now, I just may be humming this tune on endless loop and whispering, "Oh! Oh!" to myself between phrases.

She is sitting with her back to me as we approach the park.

"Oh, hun," I hear her say. "Do yourself a favor and wait until you meet your baby to decide how you're going to parent him."

Aaron runs off in the direction of the slide. I catch her eye and give a little wave.

"My sister," she mouths. I nod, set down the backpack and sit down beside it, catching a glimpse of curly red hair at the edge of the grass.

"Yes, it's a great idea to have given some thought to these things. It's just, well, I don't think you can ever account for all the swings that life with a kid can take." She runs her hand through her hair, clearly frustrated. "Look, I've got to go. Let's grab lunch next week and talk some more about this, okay?... No, that's playdate day. How about Thursday?... Okay, see ya then. ... Love you too. ... Bye."

Her shoulders slump forward for a minute, looking for support from her knees. Then she squares herself and turns towards me.

"Family stuff?" I ask.

"Family stuff," she replies. We give each other the universal whatcha gonna do gesture and sigh companionably.

"Sometimes I wish I had your freedom," she tells me. "No one to question your every move, no one to be constantly compared to."

"No one to babysit at a moments notice," I remind her. "But, yeah, I can see where there are perks."

We sit for a moment or two in silence, each playing out our own version of how the other half lives.

"How's the teether?" I ask, nodding towards the curly-topped miniature toddling our way.

"Grumpy," she grimaces. "We had to get out of the house before I went crazy. How did the testing go?"

"Meh. No solid diagnosis. Probably not far enough on the spectrum to qualify for support from them, but at least there was enough going on to make the doctor keep questioning. She said something about sensory processing or sensory integration, but wouldn't really commit until she'd had a chance to talk to the director at his school. She did say the boy is wicked smart, though, and complimented me on how I've chosen to handle his "uniqueness". That made me feel good. The parenting part, I mean."

"Well, the smart part isn't exactly a bad trait." She pats my shoulder. "At least you know he more or less understands what he's doing so you don't have to feel bad about it when it's time for consequences," she laughs, exaggerating finger quotes to emphasize "consequences".

Aaron runs up, looking for his water bottle and to tell us all about how the system on under the boat is wires so that if there are any bad guys swimming in the water they will get shocked and then the switch on the bottom will send a signal to the tower and to the satellites and it will make a loud DING DING DING sound and then the captain of the boat will run over to the side and see them all swimming away and tell them "DON'T YOU EVER COME BACK OR I WILL RUN MY BOAT RIGHT OVER YOU!" and then they will be flattened and sink to the bottom of the ocean and probably drowned until they get recycled just like Annabelle did after she went to the doctor and they couldn't do nuffin' to make her better and so she just died and now her body is getting recycled into more dirt for the Earth and Mommy, I miss Annabelle, she was the best kitty and also my best friend.

And then he's gone in almost the same breath he came in on.

Meanwhile there has been a near bark eating incident on the other side of the playground, so I am left for a moment to myself. I put his water bottle back in the back pack and pull out my own to wash down the handful of goldfish crackers that I've swiped from his snack baggie.

"Is it any wonder I can't lose the weight?" I mutter woefully to her as she pops the other half of her daughter's cereal bar into her own mouth. She nods in agreement and we both chew our contraband in silence.

"How do you do it?" she asks. I'm visibly startled, not sure to what she's directing her question.

"How do you put yourself together?" she rephrases, with a sweeping head-to-toe gesture. "You always come off so comfortable. So confident."
It's her turn to be startled as I laugh out loud before explaining that it wasn't too long ago that there was a conversation about my attire in this very park with a decidedly different tone.

"I can't even remember her name. Tori, Terry, Tracy... or more than likely something that didn't even start with a T." In my head I add that even if I could remember, I would likely change the name. You just never know when you're talking to someone's sister/cousin/bff in a small town.

"I'm sure the conversation started off innocuously, but I don't remember that bit, either. All I remember clearly is looking at the top of my just-turned-two-years-old head as he ate sand at the bottom of the slide and hearing her sweetly suggest to me that I would be more comfortable if I would take the time to "get dressed" before I went out."

She gives me the appropriate look of horror before I continue, "In retrospect, maybe she just meant I should allow myself a few minutes each day to take care of myself, but at that moment I could feel every unwashed pore of my hastily dressed body as it burned in humiliation. I tried for a month or so, I really did, but I just couldn't pull off the cute little dresses and sandals. Couldn't find a pair of jeans that I didn't race into the house to pull off the minute we got home. I avoided this park like the plague for the better part of a year before saying "fuck it" and pulling back on my Target track pants."

We shake our heads at the foibles of motherhood.

"I guess I look comfortable because I am. I realized then that I'm never going to quite fit into this neighborhood. So I quit trying. I'm the odd one on the court and I'm learning to be okay with that. It definitely takes the pressure off since no one really expects me to compete."

"Why do we do that to ourselves?" she asks, knowing full well that I don't have an answer.

Curly-top wants to swing. I call Aaron back from the top of the hill where he has managed to fashion himself a stick/vine/leaf swingy-thingy that he is brandishing about with alarming passion. He comes down and asks to push Curly-top and she nods in agreement, pleasing us all. We stand to the side, picking right back up in our conversation despite the interruption.

"Confident?" I ask. "That's a word I wouldn't have expected to be used to describe me."

She plucks at a spot of dried yogurt/applesauce/whatever at the edge of her sleeve. "You just seem to have it all together. Bandaids, extra snack, whatever."

"Oh, that's just the OCD." I laugh. "I'll be carrying a diaper bag until he's 17."

Aaron's through with the pushing, so she takes over as Curly-top begins to squawk her displeasure at slowing down.

"I would just like to get dressed, have breakfast, leave the house, come home, and eat dinner all in the same outfit. That's when I'll feel like I have it together," she laughs as she flicks away a bit of Curly-top's cereal bar from the other shoulder.

I laugh in return,"Oh, that? That's just a matter of getting your kid to the age where he wipes his face on his own clothes. If that's confidence, I've got the laundry to prove I'm the most confident person you'll ever meet!"

We leave the park as we came, separately, no plans for the future. We're best that way, she and I, confidants-but-not-quite-friends. It's as low pressure a relationship as you can come by which is probably why it works so well for the two of us. There is no sense of obligation, no expectation between us. A casual freedom that doesn't allow for the formality of playdates or text messages. No strings attached, no strings to strain and eventually break. Sometimes I wonder what it says about me that I am more comfortable with her than with those I've sat across the dinner table from.
Another 2am puzzle, no doubt.

.

troll fodder

Did I mention that we're having Aaron tested to see if he fits somewhere along the autism spectrum? I know, I know! If only I had taken the time to hold my baby instead of isolating him in his jail-like bed at the far end of the house with nothing but a BPA laced bottle decorated with licensed characters in lead paint filled with Nestle Good Start and violence filled television programming for hours on end while I selfishly slept and pooped alone, maybe he wouldn't be so messed up at the tender age of 5. If you've met my kid (which is my not so direct way of saying "don't bother commenting on what I've done wrong unless you've met my kid"), you know that he has always been his own person. If he has been over to your house you know all about his fixation with light switches and how he has to try them all out to make sure that they do the same thing in your house that they do in ours. Chances are he's even tried to explain to you how he thinks the wires in your walls/electronics/body work to carry the energy to and fro, making things work. Remember his blankie? Still very much an integral part of his life. And yes, I've been informed that an oral fixation is likely the result of weaning him off the breast before he was ready. Not by anyone with any formal training, mind you, but doesn't research via Google count as just as good as a medical degree? When the director at his preschool (I desert him there three days a week while I go out and have a wild time doing things like grocery shopping! Cleaning the house! Going to therapy! Volunteering at a local elementary school! You just wish your life was so glamourous.) pulled me aside and asked me if I had ever considered having him tested, it hit me like a ton of bricks. Bricks of relief, that is. Relief that I wasn't teetering dangerously close to the edge of munchausen because I was finding myself questioning his "normal-ness" with increasing frequency. Of course, those bricks were generously mortared together with guilt. Why had it taken me so long to take steps to get my suspicions checked out? Why did it take someone else pointing it out, confirming my thoughts to push me to do something?


We had an in home screening three days before his 5th birthday. After two hours of questions, filling out forms, and casual observance of m'boy at his version of play, the screener (? Interviewer? I'm not sure what her actual title is.) told me that we should be expecting a call to set up a more formal session at their offices in 6-8 weeks. In case you were wondering, 6-8 weeks feels as much like an eternity as that 17-minute CIO session ever did.

I got the call two weeks ago and received the paperwork in the mail today. A benign packet of maps and instructions and a stapled together "Adaptive Behaviors Packet" that scares the shit out of me. I hate the idea that we are walking down the path towards some label that will follow him around for the rest of his life. It scares me even more to consider that if there is something there I've got 5 years of bad habits for both of us to unlearn. I'm comforted by the reassurance that the agency we've turned to has a "teach coping skills first" approach and that all of the local professionals (educators, social workers, speech/behavior therapists) that have come into my life (coincidentally?) since that first conversation last September have had nothing but praise for the agency.

Think of us on Valentine's Day. Because you love us, of course, but also because you love us and because I will be such a nervous wreck about how I am presenting myself in front of a panel of therapists, specialists, and doctors that they might decide that the bigger problem is not one of PDD but of MOM.

I dedicate this song to you, Anonymous, preemptively. I've got plenty of doubt about my maternal decisions without you weighing in.

PS: NSFW or Children Watching Over Your Shoulder. Especially the latter -- it's a rather catchy tune!












why i don't think cio is the devil

I'm trying so hard to just keep out of this (and all other controversy that doesn't directly impact my present life), but as a former member of the CIO camp, I feel that some balance is needed in the discussion. Not, I recognize, that there is much discussion going on over here lately. But maybe, just maybe, I keep thinking, someone will stumble on my site while trying to make sense of where they want to fit into this conversation. Maybe, just maybe, that someone will find comfort in the notion that we don't all have to make the same parenting choices to be supportive, nurturing parents. So here's my 2 cents, the long version.

First: I am confident that it is rare amongst those of us who make the choice to let our children learn to soothe themselves to sleep to find a parent who began sleep training in the "first few months". Aaron was in his own room, in his own bed from the third week of his life on. For our entire family to function safely it was critical that we all get an appropriate amount of sleep. Josh had up to an hour commute depending on the Philadelphia weather/traffic during the winter following Aaron's birth and it certainly didn't make sense to send the sole-bread winner out into the snowy, icy streets on less than 5 hours of sleep. Because of the nature of his job at the time, it wasn't uncommon for him to receive a call after midnight that he would have to respond in person to, nor was it rare for him to have to get up to leave the house before 4 in the morning. And, again, given my inability to sleep through rain, every rustle, hiccough, breath that Aaron took in his Moses basket by our bed during that first week woke me with a start. New-mom panic led me to check on him every time I woke up. (The word "check" here being defined as picking him up because in my sleep deprived state I wasn't absolutely certain that yes, I did see his chest rise and yes, I did feel his breath or was that just a figment of my imagination, better pick him up and make sure.) I/he slept, on average, 2 hours a night those first weeks. I have no idea how much sleep Josh got. When we moved him into his own room, we finally began to find a rhythm that included sleep for all of us. The baby monitor was on 24/7 and as an extremely light sleeper, I was often awake long before his rustles became cries. On those long nights that he just couldn't seem to settle down, I slept in the big comfy chair in his room. I attended to his needs on as much on demand as any other mother, AP, CIO, MOM, [whatever acronym you wish to insert], would have.

At 4 or 5 months old, several weeks after Aaron had given up his middle of the night feeding, we began the process of letting him soothe himself back to sleep when he would wake in the middle of the night. He no longer needed me for sustenance, of that much we were certain. If Josh were to go to him in the middle of the night, he would settle right down and go back to sleep for another 3-4 hours. If I went into him in the middle of the night, he wanted to stall. He'd tug at my shirt. I'd think, "Oh, he's hungry!". We'd sit down to nurse. He'd play with my nose, my ear, my chin. I'd return him to nursing. He'd dribble milk down his chin and reach for my hair. I'd think, "Maybe he's got a bubble." I'd pat his back. He'd gum on my shoulder. I'd think, "Well, he's definitely hungry, then." I'd return him to nursing. He'd push back from my arms and reach for my nose. At some point it became obvious that he was equating "Mom" with "play". An adorable trait at 3pm. At 3am? Not so much. And with Josh still getting up to leave the house by 5am at the latest, (see above explanation) I wasn't keen on sending my husband out on the icy roads sleep-deprived day after day, blah blah blah. So we began the experiment of teaching Aaron to self soothe. We began an experiment in letting him cry it out.

We did not come up with "our" plan on our own. We used bits and pieces from others who had posted about their own experiences in finding a family rhythm that fit them better than the more popular attachment parenting method. We took a bit from here, a bit from there, tweaked it a little there, and adapted it as needed. A process, I'm certain, familiar to most who have taken a step off the current-trend-in-parenting path. A process, I'm confident, familiar to most who follow the current trend. Our plan looked like this: Final nursing at 10pm. Tuck Aaron into bed, drowsy, but not asleep. Leave the room. Aaron would talk to himself for 5-10 minutes, then fall to sleep. Sometime between 1 and 3 am, Aaron would wake himself up. I would let him fuss for 5 minutes, then go into his room to settle him back down. I would pick him up, pat his back, whatever felt appropriate to the moment, tuck him back into bed drowsy but not asleep and leave the room. He would talk to himself for 1-2 minutes, then start to fuss again. I would let him go for 10 minutes this time, then go back into his room and settle him back down. Then 15 minutes, then 20 minutes. He never once fussed longer than 20 minutes. It seemed like an eternity, but my wristwatch showed that it was only 17 minutes at the peak. That "traumatic" night happened 8 days into our little experiment. On night 9, he woke me up as usual. I soothed him, put him back to bed, and set my watch to begin the countdown. I woke up at 6am and rushed into his room, certain that he was dead. New-mom panic led me to "check"(see above) on him. He grinned at me as he woke up and reached up to tug at my nose. I haven't been able to join in the sleep-deprivation mommy talk with any regularity since.

Second: In reference to an infant old enough to begin sleeping through the night on his own, I find this sentence a tad on the melodramatic side (see entire article at http://parentingfreedom.com/cry-it-out/):

For a few minutes a day, his longing is suspended and his terrible skin-crawling need to be touched, to be held and moved about, is relieved.
I can only speak from my personal experience, but my own child is enough to firmly convince me that all children do not have a "terrible skin-crawling need to be touched..."

From the day we brought him home, this was Aaron's preferred position to be held in. He would tolerate being held closer only if he was actively nursing or if he was asleep. He would fuss if he was held for too long in a position that kept him from taking in what was going on around him. He hated, hated, HATED to be carried around in that sling thingy until the day that I finally decided he had good enough neck control to be turned around. Even then he fought against the confinement of being held so tightly against my body. Mine is a child who feels confined when embraced too long or too tight. Mine is a child who wants to see it all and take it all in at a distance before he is forced to feel/try/embrace it for himself.

Mine is also a child who firmly believes that the world revolves around him and only him. And this brings me to my third point -- the idea that not immediately responding to the wants of a child is because of "our selfish, sinful nature desires to neglect our own children." I would argue, instead, that by not immediately responding to every whim and want of my child, I am fulfilling what I consider to be my most important role as a parent. I believe that I am preparing my son to recognize that others have needs, too, and that the needs of others are every bit as valid as his own. I believe that I am teaching Aaron that "want" doesn't always equal "need". When I tell him "I will play that game with you after I finish cleaning out the dishwasher", I believe that I am teaching him the skills of respect and responsibility that he will need to become a contributing member of society. I don't believe that older children will learn that "babies are inconvenient, and we must prevent them from interfering with our lives by controlling and ignoring them" because their mother (or father) chooses to allow her littlest one to fuss for a few minutes before responding unless the mother (or father) responds in a manner that suggests that babies are inconvenient, etc. I do believe that taking a "wait a minute" approach could be looked at as an opportunity to teach older children the skill of quiet observation -- that not everything has to be "fixed" right now -- that we as humans are endowed with the incredible ability to negotiate and work things out for ourselves given the right support, tools, and encouragement. I believe that my role, as a mother, is not to be a necessity to my child. Instead, I believe my focus must be on preparing him to live free from me, successfully. I chose to sleep train with my child. Not because of religious pressure, not because of "...childhood issues of abandonment, or [because I] may be lacking certain nutrients in [my] diet.", but because it was what worked best for my family.

My final thought is this: it is impossible to prove that one method of parenting is best. There is no way to limit the number of variables to absolutely prove that this way works and that way damages. No two children are exactly the same. Even with identical twins, one was born shortly before the other, rendering any further testing unusable simply because it is impossible to rule out that difference in time when accounting for differences in the results. Parents are not exactly the same with each child each moment of each day. Personalities differ child to child. Hormones fluctuate. Work stress, diet, family shifts, weather changes, differences in sleep... it all plays a role in keeping this game of parenting from being something that can be mastered. I'll even allow for the possibility that if we hadn't chosen to sleep train Aaron that he would have decided on his own on night 9 to give up his middle of the night playtime. I can't test that theory, though, and there is no benefit in second guessing myself at this point in time.

During those first few months (and well into toddler-hood) I spent a tremendous amount of time online, looking for answers. I found many who preached the gospel of This Way and others who refuted it with the testimony of That Way. Each had their own anecdotal evidence that backed up their claims. I felt like a failure because I wasn't doing That. I wasn't successful when I tried This. I didn't agree with him, yet here was all this evidence that his was The Way. Thankfully, amongst all the baby-evangelists I happened upon a few voices of reason. Mothers and fathers suggesting that you do what you do as long as it works and then you try something else. So I guess that's the message I'm trying to pass along here. Dear New Mother, There is no single Right Way. You do what works best for you and I'll continue to do what works best for me. And when I find that what I thought was going to work best isn't working and I'm all out of ideas, I'll check in with you and see if you can give me some ideas for where to head next. And if I find something that is really working for me? I'll share it. Not because I believe that you need to do the same thing or you will ruin your child, but because if it gave me a moment of peace, a moment free from worry, a moment in which I could step back and truly enjoy the amazing young man that my son is turning into, it would be inhumane not to share it with you on the off chance that you might be able to tweak it and get similar results.

Suggesting that there is a "better way"? Without first stopping to consider all the twists and turns that led to the way that was taken in the first place? It is, quite simply, irresponsible. It's ignorance at it's absolute worst. Fear of something different, of there being another way driving us to separate into artificial groups of them vs us. It's the biggest waste of our time. And I don't know about you, but I'm finding that time is the last thing I have enough of to waste these days.


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