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.

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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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