Two and potty trained: a real world review of how the ‘3-day’ method worked for us

My child is two and is potty trained. Actually I would say she was potty trained at 22 months, but it is all in how you look at it, really.

I have been fielding a few questions about this recently – people asking me how she is doing now (following my 3-day potty training series), so I wanted to come back and write a kind of wrap-up post with a review of our progress. First, for those who haven’t been following along…

Our ‘stats’

  • we did the three-day potty training starting when little’un was just shy of 20 months old. We did not wait for the traditional ‘signs of readiness’ as we learned from our EC friends that a child’s instinct to stay clean and dry comes from birth, the rest is all habit and ‘learning’
  • day one of the process, we had our first ‘walk-to’ poop, meaning she felt the urge and walked over to do a poo in the potty, completely spontaneously and unprompted. She got it – what this whole potty learning thing is about. But we were still having lots of ‘pee-misplacement incidents’
  • day two we were getting more and more pees in the potty and three out of three poops had gone in the potty. Hazah!
  • day three she night-trained herself. That was completely unexpected. I checked her diaper when she woke up after the second night and it was dry. That has remained the case with only a couple of exceptions to prove the rule (both exceptions happened not during her sleep but when she was restless, worked up and fighting sleep)
  • … but we continued to have mixed success with pees – most went in the potty (either partially or fully) but one or two a day were still full-on misses
  • at the end of the first month, we had our first full day with NO accidents. Hooray! We had had lots and lots of nearly-nearly days (where she made it all though the day without incident and then when we got home she would pee just before making it to the potty, often). Finally after four weeks she had her first ‘all in the potty’ day!
  • … but there were still days with some accidents. We had very few poo accidents at all, in the whole process (and the ones that did happen were like on my friend’s patio – sorry again – or our hardwood floored hallway, thankfully) but we continued to have some pee accidents on some days. Then every few days we would have a full day with all the pee in the potty.
  • after two months, when she had just turned 22 months, the ratio shifted and suddenly most days were ‘dry’ (underpants, trousers and legs stayed DRY) and days with any accidents became fewer and fewer.
  • and from there on what started to happen for us was a new cycle. She would go for about two weeks with no accidents, then she’d have one mishap – usually on daddy’s watch (sorry to point this out… but really it is just the result of the fact that he has  less ‘training’ and is therefore less attuned to her non-verbal signals and she is less receptive to his prompting to go, too). Then after one accident it would be like a floodgate opened (no pun intended) and there would follow lots of other ones. I also noticed that invariably what had happened was that I had started the ‘dry’ cycle super vigilant and treating it like a dance for two, more like EC where I have to tune into her and sense her need and offer the potty at opportune times, lest she forget. After a couple weeks of success, I would get complacent and just wait for her to either go on her own (at home) or tell me she has to go, which worked most of the time… until she got distracted or absorbed by something (say playing with daddy) and forgot to go or overrode her body’s signals, which is normally where I would come in and offer – but daddy’s timing wasn’t always as finely honed so… accident one would give way to accident two and so on for a day or two till we got back to the rhythm.
  • now, at 26 months old, it has been about a couple of months since Pipoca’s last full-on accident. What does happen now is she’ll often have a kind of pre-leak, where a little escapes before she acknowledges she has to go. So we still get through a lot of underwear but… when she needs to go, (the vast majority of) it goes in the potty.
  • we are now transitioning to the big potty (aka the toilet). She was most comfortable on a little potty for a long while but the last few weeks we have mainly been using public toilets and only use the potty in the car. She seems to be really into this new phase, too, of doing it on the big potty like big girls and grown ups.

Our approach

We did all this with NO punishments, shaming, bribes or rewards. I really wanted her to want to go in the potty for its own sake, not as a way to get a raisin or a big family celebration or anything else. Yes, the timing largely came from us, adults, but it was very much from observing her interest in the potty (much as one introduces food when the kid follows our every spoonful – we don’t wait for them to ask for food to know they are ‘ready’ to eat). This was her process to lead, the speed at which we advanced was hers. We never pushed her or forced her to go, we always said, ‘okay, when you are ready’… even when we could really see she needed to go. The message was always: “This is your body and you know best when you need to go and how long you can hold it. We trust you.” This is what we wanted her to see, not that she would please mommy and daddy by going or that she’d get a reward – what we wanted her to come out of this with was a confidence that we trust her, we are here to support her learning. Plus, of course, she needed to gain a new awareness of her body and all the sensations that mean you need to go, etc. We also hoped we could have fun along the way… and we did.
So, it wasn’t the picture-perfect ‘three day’ process I was promised in the ‘brochures‘ (hah!). It took longer than that for us and we had a lot of accidents along the way (including in Ikea, Toys R Us, at the park)… But, actually, when I stopped thinking about it as ‘potty learning’ for her and instead started thinking of it as kind of dance, pair-work, something we do together, much more like late-start Elimination Communication than like traditional potty training, I adjusted my expectations and found that I really enjoyed the process – and it was much more successful this way, too. What I mean by this is I stopped putting all the onus on her to go on her own or tell me when she needed to go (which she did do most of the time) and remembered that even though she has ‘potty learned’ I still have a role in this, I still need to stay vigilant, offer the potty before we go out (whether she takes it or not, the offer is made); offer to go with her if I feel she needs the incentive, remind her it is time to go when she is starting to leak (small wet patch!?) or doing the potty dance, etc!… even as I always respect the fact that ultimately it is her choice (and pushing her would only make her push back harder, anyway).
Maybe this sounds obvious to many of you, but because she was doing it so well and so independently 90% of the time, it was easy to assume she’d got it and I could rest on my laurels the other 10%… until I learned over and over that (with her at least) I still had to be on the ball.
Reflecting on this process, this is the shocker: I think potty training my child has been one of the best things I have done on this parenting journey. It is actually one of the things I would say that has most helped me connect and get even closer to my beautiful baby girl. It was VERY hard at times, exasperating, even… but overall this brought me to a new level of attunement to my daughter, so that it became that (after a couple of weeks), most of the time I could ‘sense’ when she needed to go – without her actually communicating, in words or actions, anything at all.

Well, I say it is a ‘shocker’ but any EC mamas and papas will be laughing about how long it took me to find this out. All EC parents I know enthuse about how much the process helped them bond with their kids. To those of us that didn’t EC our kids from the get-go this notion seems, well, absurd. “How does helping your kid pee and poo help you bond??? ergh – gross!” But there you have it. It is true, for me, too, now I realise.

The emotional shift

I have already shared most of my top tips for potty learning here. But there is one, the importance of which has really become more obvious to me in the last few weeks, which I want to share: Cushion the way for the emotional and psychological side of this transition, as much as possible.

I am sorry to say I didn’t give this side of the process much thought, before embarking on it. I mean, I talked to her lots about where big kids and grown ups ‘go’. We watched the Elmo and other (free) potty training videos on YouTube and read books about going to the potty. We played with dolls who went on the loo but what I didn’t think to address was the loss of diapers and the diaper-changing ritual.

Now, it is clear to me that this ‘loss’ really is a big change for a little baby and I could have handled it much better. The babycentre write-up I let guide me into this process, recommended you show your child the pile of diapers you are going to use up before you do the 3-day process and explain that when those are used up, baby won’t be using diapers anymore. I literally forgot to do that step. Ooops. I focussed instead on the potty and what it was for and figured she didn’t really get what happened with the diapers, anyway. Why would she be attached to them?… and I know I was partially right, as I remain convinced she was oblivious to her bodily functions up until this process began but now I realise how important that whole ritual of changing a diaper was in her toddler life. Okay, she resisted being changed a lot (which might give you the false impression she’d be happy to be rid of it, right?)  but it was still a fulcral, familiar process in her every day that was done with mommy (or daddy). But here’s the thing, from the moment we went diaper free (and only from then) she became obsessed with role playing diaper changing – both on her bear and on herself. And that remained one of her favourite games for the last few months up until recently. Well, I remember that when kids get stuck in play, it is usually a sign they are not able to fully process what is going on. I was prepared to step in and help her with that, in play… and then it seemed she moved on from that game – just when she seems to have really gotten into the swing of potty use and she has taken to announcing that she is ‘a big girl that doesn’t wear diapers but wears knickers instead’! So, yeah, this transition IS a big deal and helping them cope with it emotionally is an important part of making it as easy and enjoyable for them, as possible. And I have learnt that it is not only about introducing a potty but about taking away diapers.

Advantages of ‘early’ potty training

  1. free sexual exploration – naked time means they get to look and touch and feel what is going on, down there. They are going to do this sooner or later. It is theirs afterall. So, I reckon the sooner they get some quality naked time with themselves, the better. I’d rather this be happening at 18 months than at 4 years old, myself. Kids should feel free and at ease with their naked bodies. Hooray for diaper-free time.
  2. fostering independence – I don’t believe they need to ‘ask for it’ to be ready – in some kind of crazy reversal of the extended breastfeeding put down (“if they can ask for it they are too old”); it seems many parents go with a kind of “if they can’t ask for it, they are not ready” policy on potty training. I (mostly) disagree. I think you watch your baby and (much as you did for introducing food) you can follow the signs as to whether they are ready to go independently – and ECers will tell you they can communicate to you when they need to go, from birth or soon after. Anyway, if you let the process be baby-led (once you have followed the unspoken timing) children find their way to mastering a new aspect of their physical embodiment. This brings pride, joy and a sense of confidence and independence, as it all begins to click. It is empowering – or can be (on a good day)
  3. deepening the parent-child bond – I mentioned this earlier. Doing this kind of (late) EC-ish method meant I was pushed to become super attuned to my daughter’s needs. And I found myself developing what NinjaDad and I jokingly called my ‘spider senses’ whereby I often just ‘knew’ when she needed to go. I guess it was my unconscious making clever calculations based on how much she drank, how long it has been since her last pee and taking in subtle cues from changes in her body language… anyway, I was not consciously aware of how I knew, I just did. And then, of course, there were the occasional ‘ghost pees’, another phenomenon apparently well known among ECers whereby sometimes you have a vivid and very realistic sense that you are being peed on or indeed that you yourself need to pee – when in fact this is kind of like a premonition of your child’s need to go. Weird but fascinating. See what I mean? A new level of closeness and inter-connectedness developed.
  4. lessening the impact on the environment – less diapers to land fill or cloth diapers to wash and fewer wipes, so many fewer wipes! It is amazing how much cleaner using a potty is compared to diapers. Gone are 10-wipe-blow-outs. Most poos I just need to use one wipe, nowadays. Amazing, really!

On balance

Each to their own, I say. I have spoken to LOTS of mums about this, now, both in person and online. My conclusion is that there isn’t only one way to potty learn gently, in a child-centered manner.
This is a confusing subject, I find… I mean, I resonate and understand arguments from both sides of the potty learning debate. I agree with ECers and early potty trainers that since babies are born with a sensitivity and even a kind of instinct to be clean, it may well be the most respectful, empathic and responsive thing to get them used to the potty as soon as possible. After all, what would you want? Who wants to sit in pee or poop all day?
On the other hand, the ‘wait until they are ready’ and ‘follow the child’s lead’ arguments also make a lot of sense to me and is totally how I am in almost every other aspect of my child’s life. We dance, play and learn together, finding what works for BOTH of us in a timing that reflects her development, her ever unfolding curiosity and her needs.
Clearly the EC/early potty training logic won out on me, this time. Plus, I had seen some pretty adversarial examples of ‘late potty training’ that put me off that approach entirely while, at the same time, I kept meeting ECers who raved about the process and really seemed to get a kick out of it. So the examples in my life were guiding me this approach, somehow.
But since then, I have met gentle, responsive parents who chose to EC convinced that is the most child-centered way to go AND other equally connection-oriented parents who waited till their kids were ‘ready’, some of whose kids, in fact, never had a single accident, when they traded in their diapers for undies. And I have met AP or gentle parents who have chosen nearly any path in between – all of them coming from a place of love, compassion and trust.
Truly, I think there are many ways to go about this that can be empowering for both parent and child, bringing the two together. This was the method that worked for us, this time (so far, at least). For us it was the perfect compromise: as early as we could do it so that she could walk to the potty and manage the process herself, independently. Any earlier (we started around 20 months) and she might have needed more help and as is she could manage the whole process (walking to the potty, etc) herself… and I didn’t want to go any longer than I had to, on account of the number of (chlorine-free) disposable diapers we were getting through. She responded well and quickly took to it, in our view (though, as we say, it was not a perfectly smooth journey).
Having said all that, would I do it this way, again – start early (from say 18 months) and go diaper-free from day one? I am not sure. I will say, I have no regrets. This was the way that felt right for us with this, our first child… but I do have ‘no accident’ envy, from the parents who told me that was the result for them… Then again, honestly I have heard ‘no accident’ stories coming from all methods, including the three day method (no accidents after day two or three) AND I have heard lots of ‘many accident’ stories from all methods, too. So, really, my conclusion is that has more to do with the child and, dare I say it, their ‘readiness’ (though not necessarily in the T. Brazelton sense) and with how much they are driving and embracing the process than necessarily with the method or the parent’s approach. So, do it your way… or better yet, do it your child’s way, at a time that works for the child and the whole family (like probably not just before a new sibling comes or when they are stressed… but a time when you can all give this your caring attention for a little while).
So, would I do it this way, again? Depends on the baby… Did I enjoy and learn a lot out of it this time: heck YES!


A great ‘natural parenting’ resource: Hobo Mama’s blog

Newborn cuddled in wrap with mama

I love me a bit of synchronicity, I do. Yesterday I sourced a photo from a flickr account called HoboMama of a mother breastfeeding a toddler. Today I stumbled across this: Hobo Mama, the blog. And I am so glad I did – her writing is clear, honest and well researched. She is a mine of information and links to other great bloggers. Gotto check her out.

Also, I noticed she has replaced the term ‘attachment parenting’ with ‘natural parenting’ which sounds so much better and really resonates with me – finally, a  title for this approach I love that I can really get behind.

Talking to toddlers: You are all my children

Shockingly diverse kindergarten group in Paris

Image via Wikipedia

Going to play groups, Anya and I come into ever more contact with older kids. I found, to my own astonishment, that I really didn’t know how to talk to them. The first time it happened a child, much older than Anya (like two or three – hah!) came up to Anya and wanted to take away the cool little tractor thing she was riding. My first impulse was to react in a very childish way myself: ‘No, Anya is playing with that!”… and then slowly I remembered a slightly more sophisticated approach and said ‘hey there are so many toys here, why don’t you go play with the toy kitchen’ and, to my surprise, that worked… off he toddled, happy as Larry.

Then it happened again, another kid another day came up to Anya and wanted to yank something out of her hand. What do you do? You see, generally if a kid is hitting, grabbing or otherwise interacting with Anya my line is ‘if she is okay, I am okay’. I consider them all ‘siblings for rent’ in a way. It is good for Anya to learn to share and learn to take a little shoving and grabbing and I am lucky – she is very sturdy and doesn’t mind being manhandled at all, generally. But then again that has mostly been with kids her own age, roughly.

Now, the challenge for me has been, as I said, with older kids. Like if a four year old comes over and starts shouting or throwing sand around right near my precious little baby. Amazing how those kids who before I had my own child would have looked sweet and innocent now look like threatening giants to me, with the potential to (albeit unintentionally) hurt or harm my darling daughter. And when they do something that crosses the line (your line, at least) how do you handle it? I have observed other mums skillfully manage this. There seem to be different approaches but this is what I have settled on and feels comfortable to me, now: I talk to all other kids as if they were my own kid (‘now, remember to be gentle with the baby’), at the same time remembering I am not their mom and at any moment they or their real mom or dad could call me out on that (‘who are you?! you are not my mom!!’).

At first I was cautious because I didn’t want to undermine other mum’s efforts by appearing to correct their children’s behaviour or, even worse, give the child a different message from the one their caregiver is instilling in them. I still am cautious. I mean I try not to interfere when another parent is correcting their child for doing something to Anya, for example. Sometimes I will let them know I am fine with it (as long as Anya is fine, as I say); but if they are giving their kid a talk about ‘sharing’ for example I just stay out of it and assume they are using this as a teaching point. But now, if I need to interact with a kid because they are in some way impinging on Anya’s wellbeing, I will step-in with minor guidance if needed to protect Anya in some way. I mean this is all minor stuff and still they are all valuable life lessons, not just for the two kids, but for me, too.

For example, one time, in the library, Anya discovered that pushing her stroller around in a circle was a lot of fun, so she proceeded to do that for 30 minutes (30 minutes!!!). I thought it would be fun to let her explore this new activity for as long as she wanted to, so I just steered the buggy  round as she pushed, to avoid striking any objects. While I think it was good to let Anya stick to it and focus on that activity while it held her interest, as you may imagine, it was pretty boring for me. So every now and again, I would grab a book and read it as I steered or at other times I would find myself idly staring into space. At one of these times a kid, probably around five, obviously thought I was staring at him and said ‘what?!’. I responded, as if a kid too: ‘what?!’. He said ‘what?’  I thought he might be having fun, so I said: ‘what?’ again… he clearly wasn’t having fun… he was getting increasingly frustrated and even a tad aggressive. Suddenly, though locked in combat and wanting to say ‘what?!’ again I remembered, actually, I am not a kid anymore, I am a mommy now. That’s when it hit me. It kind of monumentally hit me that I am no longer a kid. Okay I am 35… it is not the first time I have realised I am a grown up, but it was the first time it really struck me that I am a mom now and that isn’t just about being a mom to Anya but also about acting like a mom, giving strong, loving guidance and being a positive role model to all kids.

So, this rule of thumb applies: I try and talk to all kids with the compassion and empathy I would with my own children (not telling them off for being ‘wrong’ or clumsy but gently reminding them to take care with little ones or whatever) whilst remembering I don’t have the authority of their own parents. So far it has served me well.

Don’t push the milestone river

Shiny and colored objects usually attract Infa...

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Have you heard of Magda Gerber? Neither had I. She came to my attention through a ‘Discover Your Baby’ group I occasionally drop-in on. Her philosophy in childcare seems to sit comfortably alongside many of Steiner’s insights. She is, above all, insistent that we listen to and respect our children as full human beings already, now. She says that if we enfold them in our love they will unfold in their own time and so her teaching gently reminds us not to try and mold our children or push them to learn and grow at a fast pace that suits our ‘parent egos’ more than our child’s developing sense of wonder.

Rather, Magda Gerber (in no way related to the Gerber baby food company) urges us to sit back and observe our children’s natural development (especially aged zero to two, I believe). She says parenting and childcare are being overriden by a ‘faster, more, better’ culture that clutters our children with excess attention, toys and general interference. In contrast, “she urged parents to observe their babies and wait for their cues, never rushing them into sitting, walking, eating, or talking before they signal their readiness to do so.”

This totally resonates with my inner feeling. With eating we very much followed Nica’s cues and waited for her to signal to us that she was ready to start eating and I feel confident that was the right thing for her. With walking, likewise, I have a very relaxed attitude predicated on the fact that I have long been sold on the benefits of crawling for brain development, co-ordination and building core-strength (of the torso). However it was at one of these ‘Discover Your Baby’ classes that I was shown a blind-spot of mine.

Just like so many parents are in a hurry to see their kids walk and put them in walkers, bouncers and other upright devices (most of which are not only not beneficial but arguably even detrimental to children’s overall wellbeing) modern parents often seem in a hurry to see their kids sit upright, too. Okay, I never bought or even experimented with putting Nica in a Bumbo. I thought they were very silly and pointless – even though others seem to get super excited by them. But I did get very enthusiastic when Nica started to be able to stay seated if I placed her there, upright. And at that point, I started sitting her up and leaving her like that because it was cute, because it gave her access to play with toys in a new way, because it gave me a break from having to hover over her when she was rolling everywhere. There was a downside. She would often crash backwards onto her head. Thankfully we have nice, plush carpet and I quickly learned to put a big pillow behind her when I sat her up…

Well… the Magda Gerber inspired ‘Discover Your Baby’ instructor set me straight. I mentioned to her Nica wasn’t crawling yet (this was at about 7.5 months). She asked if Nica spent much time lying on her back (and belly) or if she spent most of her time sitting up. I said I was sitting her up. She then asked if Nica was able to get from her belly to a seated position and back down again by herself or if I had to sit her up and put her back down? I answered (rather sheepishly, by then) that I sat her up, usually between my legs, because she couldn’t keep herself up indefinitely, yet. ‘Ahh’ she said… According to this philosophy you shouldn’t ‘artificially’ sit your kid up (even if she is able to hold herself there) until she is able to sit up for herself and that the fact that she wasn’t crawling was probably related. While Nica was spending all this time sitting up, she wasn’t practicing leg movements (waving her legs from side to side, etc) that exercise her belly and back muscles getting her ready and strong for crawling. ‘Oh…’ I said.

I took Nica home and immediately started putting her on her back and belly and letting her roll and move around on that plane again. Within two or three days Nica started to belly crawl. Aha!…

It definitely feels related and not coincidental – I saw Nica really practice reaching and pre-crawling for those few days. I guess she was ready and just needed that extra stretching and work-out time.

Generally this approach is reminding me to slow down, to look, listen and feel: look and listen to Nica and her cues; feel what is instinctive and intuitive to me. Breathe.

While I am generally quite laid-back and trusting of Nica’s unfolding into the person she is with her unique talents, temperament and passions, I realise that my parenting approach can still do with re-balancing. I get into my little parenting projects, like signing, and though with everything I do with Nica my aim is to be child-led (where possible), a reminder to see what is there is always timely.

Guest Blogger: On Going Back to Work

A few weeks back I read on my friend Jen’s facebook status that she was going back to work after staying home and caring for her daughter Awynn for nearly four months. Jen sometimes writes me little notes and I love the way she writes, fluid with sentiment and poetry. I asked her if she would write a guest blog about her experience of going back to work, as a new mum. She accepted. Her story is below.

Kai and I met Jen and her husband and life-partner Jon when we were travelling in India some years back. We took to them instantly. We met them on a train platform on our way to Goa and then travelled with them down to Gokarna. We were light travelling companions who shared the road for some time and then went our separate ways to continue on our journeys in different directions, we went North, they went South.

Jen used to teach pre-school children following the inspiration of the Reggio Emilia model, a child-led approach centered on trusting and supporting the child’s innate curiosity as the thrust for learning – which I found super compelling. Now, Jen teaches school art 9th to 12th grade, concentrating on design, drawing, ceramics and photography.

Here is Jen’s account of returning to this work, while leaving her little one in the care of her grandparents:

Going back to work is easily the most difficult challenge I have faced.
I spent each moment leading up to my first day back with my sweet girl, Awynn, close to me as she had been since she emerged into my hands three and a half months earlier. I became emotional on my walks with her as I observed her wide eyes taking all in and knowing I would be missing such moments of wonder and growth. I could not reconcile that I would be leaving her in order to work with other people’s children who were having equally amazing moments of wonder and growth away from their own parents. It felt so unnatural.

All that my daughter knew up until the point of my departure to work was going to transform. All that soothed her would change, all that excited her would change, the daily rhythm that we developed as mother and child would be recognizable, but void of one important factor, me. And it is this absence that caused such grief within…the thought of my daughter’s isolation from the foundation of trust that we had established and that going back to work meant loosing that somehow.

So many questions emerged at that time: Can I continue to be present for my daughter and her needs while I am away from her? Will our connection remain as deeply strong? Will I be able to continue to understand her evolving language? Will she shift her love for me to my mother and father who will be caring for her?

And while I was in the vulnerable state of diving into this process of inquiry, I made a mistake. I looked outside of myself. At the time, I saw it as research, seeking the advice of another experienced and informed being who may provide insight and who may even provide me with a bit of validation…that all would be okay. I decided to read about going back to work in Dr. Sear’s The Baby Book. To his credit, I find Dr. Sears‘ advice quite relevant and informed and usually non-judgmental…all reasons why I sought his advice in the first place. The pages that I read in my vulnerable state have since morphed in content, but went a little something like this…He suggested taking time off from work, extending one’s leave, quitting or going back part time. Yes, I would love to, but I am not in a situation where that is possible. Then I read on, that once distance starts to develop between a child and her parents, that it can trigger a sort of domino effect. That one day away becomes two and then dinner without baby becomes a weekend getaway without baby which leads to an extended vacation without baby which leads to a lifetime of distance between parents and child which leads to adolescent rebellion.

What have I done?

By choosing to buy a house with the intention of creating a sacred space, a home for my child, I put myself in a financial position that required me to work. Wouldn’t my daughter be better off living in a smaller rented space to allow for either my husband or me to be present on a daily basis? This dilemma was unsettling and occupied my thoughts and heart for some time. Eventually, the interior dialogue began to wane and clarity settle…the conclusion I drew was…Trust. Surrender. Awynn was born within the walls of the home we created for her and it is here that the magic of our new family dwells. We will stay where her father has harvested the first voluptuous vegetables of his gardening efforts, we will stay where we have planted fig, apple and pear trees, we will stay where rooms have been mindfully created with intention for a small being’s first explorations….we will stay.

And so the inevitable consequence of this decision began. Work, meaningful work, but work nonetheless. Trust. Surrender. On the first day I returned, I kissed my sleeping girl goodbye and left her with my dear parents. I welled up with emotion on my drive to school imagining her cries upon waking without me there to soothe her, to feed her. She had not taken a bottle up until this point despite over a month of attempts, many types of bottle and nipple combinations, many scenarios of my presence/absence in the room… I checked in before lunch…all was fine…I checked in at lunch…all was fine…I checked in after lunch…she had taken a bottle!!! Well…with a lot of coaxing and being lulled into a sleepy state with rattle on the part of my patient mom. When I got a report that she read books, listened to multi-cultural music, played with scarves and instruments…I knew that my baby was going to be fine. In fact, she was going to thrive!

And so began the unexpected….First, the smile. The smile of recognition and bliss given by my daughter to me, her momma, as I come walking on the porch where she and her grandmother are swinging melts the heart. Secondly, the grandparents. My parents are wonderful. I am infinitely grateful and blessed that they have chosen to stay home with Awynn. But the unexpected is the depth of their love and the capacity of growth for their relationship with her. Awynn has gained, not lost in this new rhythm. I am her mother. My husband and I are her parents. This connection will deepen and grow organically and our strong foundation of trust established from the moment she emerged into the world is unchangeable. Her world is expanding with the presence of her grandparents. My parents create a wider circle of trust in their love and commitment to her. Her circle has grown to four individuals who understand her cues, who listen to her needs, who expose her to exciting new experiences. Which brings me to the third unexpected aspect, healing. I am now able to observe, firsthand, what my parents were possibly like with me when I was a baby. There is something incredible about seeing my father put on a special straw walking hat that signals to my daughter (who squeals and kicks her legs in delight) that she will be taking a walk soon. And to see my mother lie down next to my sleeping daughter in the morning as I kiss them both goodbye knowing that my daughter will know her grandmother this intimately forever. Awynn is my gift to them…a new beginning with a radiant new being.

The understanding and clarity gained from this process of returning to work is that the challenge was about me, my identity as a mother, not Awynn’s. She is fluid in her adaptation, clear and present in her body as it is exposed to this amazing reality in which we live. I have learned that she is capable and aware of who I am and how I fit into this reality. It was me who needed defining by me. I am an individual who needs the stimulation that my work with my students brings. I could gain new stimulation by being at home…trying on that identity, but I would not be affecting the lives of my students and they would not be affecting mine. I would miss that as well. As far as the isolation I was grieving for in my earlier state of uncertainty…I was grieving for my isolation from my daughter, not hers from me. It is still very difficult some days, especially when my students are not choosing to put energy into their work, but it becomes easier and easier each day to balance my identities. I dive into my work at school more deeply knowing that my daughter is thriving at home and motivated by the fact that if I am away, I am going to make it worth every moment! I have challenging mornings leaving her and there is not a moment when I do not miss her while I am away (especially pumping while looking at a photo of her…so unnatural…a full topic in and of itself!) But coming home….oh the sweet, sweet moment of returning home and snuggling up with my girl…overflowing with love.

And sometimes the opposite is also true…

children playing

Image by Gakige via Flickr

“And sometimes the opposite is also true” as Suzuki Roshi used to say.

Yes, I think the research and recommendations of Dr Sally Ward seem sound and worth trying out but that doesn’t mean I think I should follow my daughter round and point at things and name them, all day. I just wanted to be clear about that. I think half an hour is quite enough, unless indeed the kid has a language delay or the like.

And I guess that is the beauty of a blog. I get to redress any issue I want and I always get the last word.

Meanwhile, I am navigating my way through this sea of parenting advice contradictions and finding that when I look up close they are not opposite but complementary. I still love Jean Liedloff’s admonitions to not become child-centered in our every day dealings to the point that the kids, who crave to learn by example, by seeing what we do, find they have no role-models but a bunch of people staring and making funny faces at them. Am I exagerating? Sure… but you get the point. Children learn best by copying what we do, at this age – they don’t reason, yet.

The old advice to leave playing kids to play is also a blessing. If your baby is okay, she is entertaining herself, then let her be. It is important for her to learn to amuse herself and to be allowed to follow her own interests, intuitions and curiosity.

Balance (yep, sorry if you wanted a sensationally biased blog, you came to the wrong place – today at least)… balance is the key, she says as she wavers on the tight rope, with half a world a-watchin’.

Anxious about Separation Anxiety?

Separation anxiety is now well and truly here. Anya cries when I so much as am out of arm’s distance or turn a corner into a room she can’t see me in, often. And at night it means nobody can settle her but me, it seems. Having said that I would say she is almost as attached to Kai as she is to me – which is a good thing. I mean she whimpers when he leaves, too. But on the plus side I can leave her with daddy and she is quite happy.

Okay but here is the kicker, I just read separation anxiety lasts from 8 months (uh-huh, *nod*, right on schedule) until 2 years of age. Two years??! Nobody told me that!! I knew it was coming. I was bracing myself for the ‘only mommy will do phase’ but I thought it would last a couple of months, not nearly a couple of years! Crikey!